JNN 25 Aug 2013 YANGON, Myanmar — Fresh sectarian violence struck northwestern Myanmar early Sunday when a 1,000-strong Buddhist mob burned down dozens of homes and shops of Muslims following rumors that a young woman had been assaulted by a Muslim man, police said. There were no reports of injuries.
A crowd surrounded the police station late Saturday and then went on an hours-long rampage after authorities refused to hand over the assault suspect, a police officer from the area told The Associated Press.
About 35 houses and 12 shops — most belonging to Muslims — were destroyed before calm was restored, he said, asking not to be named because he did not have the authority to speak to reporters.
The radical monk Wirathu, whose anti-Muslim rhetoric has placed him at the center of rising religious violence in the predominantly Buddhist nation, posted news of the riot in the outskirts of the town of Kantbalu on his Facebook page.
Myanmar has been grappling with sectarian violence since the country’s military rulers handed over power to a nominally civilian government in 2011.
The unrest — which has killed more than 250 people and left 140,000 others displaced — began last year in the western state of Rakhine, where Buddhists accuse the Rohingya Muslim community of illegally entering the country and encroaching on their land. The violence, on a smaller scale but still deadly, spread earlier this year to other parts of the country, fueling deep-seeded prejudices against the Islamic minority and threatening this country’s fragile transition to democracy.
Almost all of the victims have been Muslims, often attacked as security forces stood by.
Myint Naing, an opposition lawmaker who represents constituents in Kantbalu, was outraged by the latest violence.
He said Muslims and Buddhists have lived side-by-side in the area for many years.
“There is a mosque in almost every village in our township and we live a peaceful co-existence,” he said as he headed to the scene, adding that at least one mosque was burned down in the violence.
“I cannot understand why the authorities were unable to control the crowd when it originally started,” he said.
Details about the riot were still being collected Sunday afternoon. The local Daily Eleven newspaper, which had a reporter at the scene, said 1,000 people were involved in the violence