A Buddhist mob rampaged through a town in an isolated corner of Myanmar, hacking Muslim women and children with knives, a villager and a rights group reported yesterday, saying that more than a dozen people may have been killed.
A government official said the situation was tense but denied any deaths.
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million people, has been grappling with sectarian violence for nearly two years. More than 240 people have been killed and another 250,000, mostly Muslims, forced to flee their homes.
Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, an advocacy group that has been documenting abuses against members of the Rohingya Muslim minority for more than a decade, said details of the violence that occurred on Tuesday in northern Rakhine state were still emerging, with many of the reports conflicting with each other.
It is one of the most isolated regions in the country, both politically and geographically, and access to foreigners is denied or restricted.
The death toll could range between 10 and 60, said Lewa, whose sources ranged from a village administrator to witnesses.
Tensions have been building in the region since last month, when monks from a Buddhist extremist movement known as 969 toured the area and gave sermons by loudspeaker advocating the expulsion of all Rohingya, who make up 90 per cent of the population in northern Rakhine. It is the only place where the religious minority is in the majority.
A resident who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals said an initial flare-up followed the discovery of three bodies in a ditch near Du Char Yar Tan village by several firewood collectors.
That some of the victims appeared to have been stabbed with knives, not shot or beaten, "would clearly indicate the massacre was committed by [Buddhist] Rakhine villagers, rather than the police or army", the Arakan Project wrote in a briefing on Thursday.