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Mobs torch Muslim homes in western Myanmar

Violence flares after politician accused of 'insulting Buddhism'

John Zaw, Yangon

September 30, 2013

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Attacks by Buddhist mobs on a mosque and houses belonging to Muslim families in western Myanmar on Sunday have raised tensions in a region still reeling from several waves of deadly inter-religious violence over the past year.

The incident occurred in Thandwe in Rakhine state, where more than 200 people have died since violence flared in June last year.

The first attack targeted the house of Kyaw Zan Hla, chairman of the Kaman Muslim Party. Buddhist mobs threw petrol bombs at the residence after the politician protested against the parking of a taxi in front of his house. Following the argument, word spread that Kyaw Zan Hla had insulted Buddhism.

His brother Bo Sein, who lives in Yangon after fleeing Thandwe earlier this year following death threats, said police had questioned Kyaw Zan Hla after the taxi driver claimed he was verbally abused.

The violence then spread, and a mob of around 50 locals, some wearing masks, surrounded a mosque in the town.

“At least 50 people from a Buddhist mob attempted to burn the mosque but security forces dispersed them by firing shots in the air on Sunday evening,” said Bo Sein. “And at least ten Muslim houses were hit by stones.”

While also Muslim, the Kaman are distinct from the Rohingya minority, against whom much of the violence over the past year has been directed.

Win Myaing, spokesperson for the Rakhine state government, said today that calm had been restored and local police and the military were guarding Thandwe residents.

Moe Maw, a Muslim resident of Thandwe, said however that police had failed to disperse the rioters. Two Muslim families whose houses were razed had fled to the homes of relatives, he said, adding that rumors had spread round the town that more attacks will take place.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed past sectarian violence in a speech last week to the Group of Friends on Myanmar, saying it poses a risk to ongoing efforts toward democratic reform.

“Much of this progress could be undermined if the threat of communal disturbances and violent confrontation between religious and ethnic groups is not addressed effectively including by looking at the root cause of the conflicts,” he said.

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