News / Asia

Burma Town Under Curfew after Religious Violence

Map of Meikhtila, BurmaMap of Meikhtila, Burma
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Map of Meikhtila, Burma
Map of Meikhtila, Burma
Daniel Schearf
— Authorities in Burma have put a town under curfew after violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims left at least 10 people dead, including a Buddhist monk.  Tensions have been simmering in Burma since communal clashes last year killed nearly 200 people and left more than 100,000 homeless.

Burma authorities say a nighttime curfew in the town of Meikhtila will remain in place after a second day of violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims.

Hundreds of people rioted Wednesday, setting fire to shops and damaging at least two Muslim religious buildings.

Local opposition politician Win Htein told VOA's Burmese service the situation was still unstable, despite the curfew.

He says after the action he thought the riot would be settled down, but some local Burmese and a group of Muslims fought each other.  Local police, he says, could not disperse the crowds, so more than 10 people were killed in the fight.  He says now the area is under control, but in some other areas Muslims are attacking local Burmese.

A local woman, who did not wished to be named, told VOA's Burmese service she was too afraid to go outside.

She says even though the rioting settled down Wednesday, it is getting worse because some Muslims killed a monk. Now, she says, the crowds of monks and local Burmese are gathering.  She says she could not go out at all because all the roads are blocked.

The central Burma town is 150 kilometers south of Mandalay.

Burma online news media published photos of police carrying riot shields massing on the streets and crowds gathered in front of damaged shop fronts.

Burma media reports say the fighting started after a dispute in a gold shop escalated between Buddhist customers and the Muslim owners.

Joint General Secretary of Burma's Islamic Religious Council, Wunna Shwe, blames the unrest on a lack of rule of law.

He says the argument happened between a shop owner and a customer.  He says local authorities should have taken immediate action on the unfairness of the case according to the law, but they failed to take action quickly and then the situation got out of control.

Burma is a majority Buddhist nation with Burmese as the largest ethnic group.  But with numerous ethnic and religious minorities, occasional sectarian tensions erupt into violence.

Last year, Burma's western Rakhine state was the scene of deadly clashes between Buddhists and Muslims. Nearly 200 people were killed and 120,000 left homeless, most of them a stateless Muslim minority called the Rohingya.

Rights groups have expressed concern religious tensions could spread and disrupt Burma's reform efforts.

U.S. Ambassador to Burma, Derek Mitchell, issued a statement saying he is deeply concerned about reports of violence and widespread property damage.  He also expressed condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and property.

The embassy says it is closely monitoring events.

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