Myanmar religious tension surges

2012-06-08 16:02
Children, internally displaced persons (IDPs) posing for a photo inside a shack at a refugee camp in Myanmar. (AFP)

Children, internally displaced persons (IDPs) posing for a photo inside a shack at a refugee camp in Myanmar. (AFP)

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Yangon - Police in western Myanmar on Friday opened fire in an attempt to quell religious tensions in a town dominated by the Rohingya Muslim minority group, a government official said.

Police were said to have been deployed at more than a dozen villages in Rakhine state, along the Bay of Bengal, after houses were set on fire following a surge in sectarian unrest.

"Police opened fire in Maungdaw in Rakhine state. There are no casualties," the official said.

Tensions have flared in Rakhine since 10 Muslims were killed by an angry Buddhist mob on Sunday.

The victims' bus was surrounded by a crowd of hundreds of people enraged at the 28 May rape and murder of a Rakhine woman, allegedly by three other Muslim men, state media reported on Tuesday.

Buddhists make up about 89% of the population of Myanmar, with Muslims officially representing 4%. The United Nations describes the Rohingya as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Under control

The violence threatens to overshadow reconciliation efforts since a series of dramatic political reforms last year ended almost half a century of military rule.

An official from the presidential office said police were deployed in Maungdaw on Friday after about 300 people returning from mosques threw stones at a government office, police station and local businesses.

"Now it is under control," the official said, adding that there was also stone-throwing in the Rakhine state capital Sittwe.

Police were also deployed in 14 Rakhine villages as houses were set on fire, he later said in comments posted online.

Abu Tahay, of the National Democratic Party for Development, which represents Rohingya, said there were unconfirmed reports that one or two people were killed by security forces in Maungdaw. AFP was unable to verify that information.

The authorities this week warned against "anarchic acts" after the mob killings and an attack on a police station by an angry crowd in Sittwe.

Call for justice

Religious clashes occur periodically in Myanmar, and Rakhine state - which has a large Muslim minority population including the stateless Rohingya - is a flashpoint for tensions.

In February 2001, the then-ruling junta declared a curfew in the state capital Sittwe after clashes between Muslims and Buddhists.

In Myanmar's main city Yangon, dozens of Muslims protested on Tuesday calling for justice over the recent mob killing.

In a rare public response to civil unrest, the government said on Thursday it had established a committee to investigate the sectarian strife and expected to hear its findings by the end of June.

With fears of further violence growing, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday urged the nation's Buddhist population to show "sympathy" with minorities following the Rakhine killings.

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