Mosque, shops attacked in fresh Myanmar unrest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 9:52pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 9:54pm

Police in central Myanmar fired warning shots to disperse a crowd after a mosque and shops were attacked on Tuesday, the president’s spokesman said, in the latest religious unrest to hit the country.

The fighting was sparked in the small town of Oakkan, around 100 kilometres north of Yangon, after a woman accidentally bumped into a young novice monk and knocked his alms bowl onto the ground, according to Ye Htut.

It is the latest unrest to flare in the region north of Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, after a series of attacks by Buddhist mobs on Muslim homes, businesses and mosques in March.

“According to the initial information received by the Myanmar Police Force, a mosque and shops nearby were attacked ... The police force had to fire warning shots to disperse the crowd,” Ye Htut said in a post on his Facebook page, adding that the situation had been brought under control.

He said some shops were destroyed but no buildings had been burnt.

“There were some attacks to the mosque by throwing with stones. No casualties were reported,” a police official said.

At least 43 people were killed and thousands were left homeless in March in fighting apparently triggered by a quarrel between a Muslim gold shop owner and Buddhist customers in the central town of Meiktila.

Some monks were involved in the unrest while others are behind a nationalistic campaign calling for a boycott of Muslim-owned shops.

The unrest has exposed deep religious tensions in the formerly junta-run nation and cast a shadow over reforms under a quasi-civilian regime that took power two years ago.

Last year around 200 people were killed in clashes between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya – a minority treated with hostility by many Burmese who see them as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

While the Rohingya – described by the UN as among the most-persecuted minorities on the planet – have long been denied Myanmar citizenship, the Muslims targeted in March’s unrest are Myanmar nationals.

Human Rights Watch last week accused authorities of being involved in “ethnic cleansing” in Rakhine – a claim the government denies.

An official report into the unrest this week suggested doubling the security presence in the state and recommended keeping the communities apart as a temporary measure to prevent further violence.