Muslim woman charged after Myanmar unrest

2013-05-02 17:23
Muslim people sit near their destroyed homes after riots broke out in a village at Oakkan town, some 100km north of Yangon. (Soe Than Win, AFP)

Muslim people sit near their destroyed homes after riots broke out in a village at Oakkan town, some 100km north of Yangon. (Soe Than Win, AFP)

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Yangon - Police in Myanmar, where mobs this week desecrated mosques and burned homes, said on Thursday they would charge a Muslim woman for blasphemy after she apparently collided with a young monk on the street, sparking the unrest.

Win Win Sein and another Muslim woman were detained by police in Oakkan, around 100km north of Yangon, following anti-Muslim attacks on Monday that left one dead.

"Altogether 21 people will be charged over their involvement in the violence," said a local police official, who said calm had been restored.

"Win Win Sein and another woman will also be charged for religious defamation," he told AFP without giving further details.

Myanmar, which began emerging from the grip of junta rule two years ago, has seen an explosion of religious tension as dormant resentments boil to the surface with new social freedoms.

According to the nation's constitution all faiths are protected from perceived insults, although the country "recognises [the] special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens".

Monks - heroes of pro-democracy protests and a moral authority for the country's Buddhist majority - were seen participating in a wave of violence in March, while one cleric is behind a pernicious campaign to boycott Muslim shops, although moderate voices have spoken out against the fighting.

Quasi-civilian regime

In the latest violence crowds ransacked shops and partly destroyed a mosque in Oakkan after authorities said the woman accidentally bumped into the novice, resulting in the monk's alms bowl being broken.

The unrest spread during the day to surrounding villages where at least one more mosque was damaged and dozens of homes reduced to ashes.

In an interview broadcast on state television the young monk, Shin Ponnya, said he was offered money to buy a new alms bowl, adding that the police arrived shortly after the incident.

"I was apologised to only when we arrived at the police station," he said, before the interview was abruptly cut.

Attacks against Muslims - who make up an estimated 4% of the population - have cast a shadow over reforms under Myanmar's quasi-civilian regime.

At least 43 people were killed and thousands 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.

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

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