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Mosques, Homes Destroyed in Latest Burma Violence

Burmese police officer rides a motorbike past debris of buildings and a truck destroyed during ethnic unrest between Buddhists and Muslims, as he provides security in Meikhtila, March 25, 2013.
Sectarian violence spread further into the heartland of Burma on Tuesday, with officials reporting at least two mosques and dozens of homes destroyed in riots.

Police and witnesses say there were no casualties reported in the overnight violence in two communities in the Pegu region north of Rangoon.

The violence has been spreading southward from the central town of Meikhtila, where clashes erupted last week, prompting a state of emergency.

The unrest has not yet reached Rangoon, Burma's largest city. But tensions are high and many shops are being told to close early because of rumors of clashes.

State media Tuesday said the death toll from the Meikhtila violence reached 40, after eight more bodies were found during cleanup of the riot-hit town.

Late Monday, the government of President Thein Sein vowed to do everything it can to stop the violence. It also promised to quickly resettle the 10,000 mostly Muslim residents displaced in Meikhtila.

The rioting is the worst communal violence since a wave of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year that left around 200 people dead and more than 100,000 others displaced.

But observers are particularly worried about the latest violence, saying it shows that tension between the two communities is more widespread than many assumed.

The United States and United Nations have called for an end to the violence, which threatens to undermine the political reforms made by the nominally-civilian Burmese government.