Muslims flee Myanmar town after riots

2013-05-30 11:02
A fireman begins to clean up a burnt down market after riots broke out in Lashio in eastern Myanmar's Shan state. (Ye Aung Thu, AFP)

A fireman begins to clean up a burnt down market after riots broke out in Lashio in eastern Myanmar's Shan state. (Ye Aung Thu, AFP)

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Lashio - Troops patrolled the riot-scarred streets of a town in eastern Myanmar on Thursday where hundreds of Muslims fled their homes after a new outbreak of religious violence left at least one dead.

Mobs armed with knives and sticks had roamed the streets of Lashio in Shan state during two previous days of fighting that saw a mosque and orphanage torched as sectarian strife spread to a new part of the country.

Soldiers were out in force as authorities sought to stamp out the bloody violence - the latest in a series of clashes across the country that have proved a major challenge for the reformist government.

"There were some people going around the town with knives and sticks on motorbikes yesterday. But there is no such thing today," local information ministry official Nang Hsai Li Kham said, adding that the army was in charge of keeping the peace.

About 300 Muslims were taking refuge at a monastery in the town, guarded by armed police and soldiers, after violence tore through their neighbourhood.

Win Ko, a 32-year-old vegetable seller, said his family of six, including three children, were escorted to the building early on Thursday after his house was destroyed in the fighting.

Elderly couple beaten

"They attacked every Muslim man they saw with knives and sticks," he said, adding that his family hid at the home of an ethnic Chinese neighbour after hearing a mob coming down the street.

He said the attackers - some wearing monks' robes - were armed with knives, sticks and axes.

Some of his Buddhist neighbours were among the crowd and could point out which homes in the ethnically mixed area belonged to Muslims, said Win Ko.

"I saw our Muslim neighbours, an elderly couple, beaten as they tried to escape in their car," he said.

Officials said one person had been killed and five injured.

Local relief official Kyaw Kyaw Tun said Muslims were escorted to the monastery to "prevent further clashes".

Deep rifts exposed

"We brought them out of their hiding places and told them we would take them to a safer place," he said, without outlining any further plans for the community.

Security forces have been accused of being slow to react - or even complicit - after religious fighting swept Myanmar in recent months.

The unrest, which has mostly targeted Muslims, has exposed deep rifts in the Buddhist-majority country and cast a shadow over widely praised political reforms since military rule ended two years ago.

The sectarian strife has triggered international alarm. US President Barack Obama last week voiced "deep concern" about anti-Muslim attacks, during a landmark visit to Washington by President Thein Sein.

About 25 local people have been arrested in Lashio, according to presidential spokesperson Ye Htut in a post on his official Facebook page.

Three religious buildings, dozens of shops and several homes were torched during the fighting, according to the state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

140 000 displaced

Authorities said the unrest was sparked by an assault on a 24-year-old Buddhist woman on Tuesday, leaving her with burns but not in a serious condition.

State media said a 48-year-old Muslim man, described as a drug addict, had been arrested over the attack.

In March at least 44 people were killed in sectarian strife in central Myanmar with thousands of homes set ablaze.

Some monks - who were among the most vocal pro-democracy supporters during Myanmar's repressive junta era - have been involved in the violence, while others are spearheading a move to boycott shops owned by Muslims.

Communal unrest last year in the western state of Rakhine left about 200 people dead and displaced up to 140 000 people, mainly Rohingya Muslims.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  myanmar

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