Northern Myanmar city calm after latest communal violence

Reuters News
Posted: May 28, 2013 12:12 PM
Northern Myanmar city calm after latest communal violence

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - The city of Lashio in northern Myanmar was calm on Wednesday, residents and central government said, after violence between Buddhists and Muslims the previous day highlighted the tension between the communities after deadly unrest over the past year.

State-run MRTV television said a mosque, a Muslim religious school and a number of shops were gutted by fires started by Buddhists in Lashio, a city in Shan State about 190 km (120 miles) south of Muse on the border with China.

The renewed unrest underlines the problems faced by the reforming government of President Thein Sein as he struggles to open up the country while containing ethnic and religious tensions that festered under half a century of military rule.

"The situation in Lashio this morning is calm. There has been no casualty in the incident so far ... The Tatmadaw (military) and Myanmar Police Force are taking care of security measures," presidential spokesman Ye Htut said in a statement.

"Religious and social organizations are cooperating with administrative institutions to prevent further violence," he added.

In March at least 44 people, most of them Muslims, died in the central city of Meikhtila after a rampage by Buddhist mobs incensed by the killing of a monk by Muslims, shortly after a violent row between a Buddhist couple and Muslim shop owners.

Tuesday's unrest in Lashio was sparked by a quarrel between two people, named by state media as Aye Aye Win, 24, a Buddhist woman who sold petrol, and Ne Win, a Muslim man aged 48.

MRTV television said Ne Win poured petrol over Aye Aye Win and set her on fire. She was in hospital, it said.

After police detained Ne Win, Buddhists surrounded the police station and demanded he be handed over. When they refused, the crowd went on the rampage, attacking Myoma Mosque near Lashio market, residents said.

The authorities moved quickly to restore order late on Tuesday by banning unlawful assembly under a state of emergency.

The most serious violence between Myanmar's majority Buddhists and Muslims, who make up about 5 percent of the population, took place in Rakhine State in the west in June and October last year.

Buddhists fought Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship by Myanmar and seen by many in the country as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

At least 192 people were killed and about 140,000 displaced, mostly Muslims. They now live in squalid camps, effectively segregated by the authorities.

(Additional reporting by Jared Ferrie; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)