Sectarian tension spreads to Yangon

2013-03-25 15:11
Soldiers take part in clean-up operations after an outbreak of communal violence claimed at least 32 lives and displaced about 9 000 people in Meiktila, central Myanmar. (Soe Than Win, AFP)

Soldiers take part in clean-up operations after an outbreak of communal violence claimed at least 32 lives and displaced about 9 000 people in Meiktila, central Myanmar. (Soe Than Win, AFP)

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Yangon - Muslim neighbourhoods in Yangon shuttered their shops on Monday as fears of sectarian clashes spread to Myanmar's largest city and former capital, residents and officials said.

The concerns came in the wake of clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in the centre of the country last week, and after provocateurs early on Monday spread rumours that mosques had been destroyed in Yangon, a politician said.

Two cars drove through districts with large Muslim populations soon after midnight, their passengers shouting, "Mosques have been destroyed," said Phyu Phyu Thin, a local resident and member of parliament for the National League for Democracy opposition party.

Muslim men came out of their houses armed with swords and sticks in response, she said.

"Some of the men attacked our group when we went to the district to explain that no mosques had been destroyed in Yangon," Phyu Phyu Thin said.

Central Myanmar has been wracked by riots since Wednesday, when an argument over a hair pin at a Muslim gold shop in the town of Meiktila sparked clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities that spread to neighbouring villages Yonebin, Ywadan and Shwe Dah Thazi, all in the Mandalay Region, around 400km north of Yangon.

The area has a higher proportion of Muslims than the 5% overall in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.

The violence has claimed 32 lives and left five mosques and scores of shops and houses destroyed. Authorities have arrested 35 suspects on charges of arson and looting in Mandalay, according to The New Light of Myanmar.

The government declared a state of emergency in the central region on Friday.

Presidential Office Minister Aung Min, who visited Meiktila on Sunday, said he was concerned that agitators were deliberately stoking tensions.

Last year, fighting between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine left at least 180 people dead and more than 100 000 homeless.

The violence, which broke out in June, was directed mainly against Muslim Rohingyas, a minority group with cultural links to Bangladesh who are deprived of Myanmar citizenship under a 1982 law.

Read more on:    myanmar  |  religion

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