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President slams "opportunists and extremists"

Rights group demands probe after anti-Muslim riots

A burned-out Muslim mosque stands amid debris in Meiktila A burned-out Muslim mosque stands amid debris in Meiktila
  • John Zaw, Mandalay, and Thomas Toe, Yangon
  • Myanmar
  • April 1, 2013
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Communal conflict in Myanmar has tarnished the country’s image, President Thein Sein said yesterday, following a wave of anti-Islamic violence that many say the government should have done more to prevent. 

The riots appear to have calmed since Thein Sein gave a public address on Thursday, vowing to tackle the conflict with force if necessary. He attributed the attacks to "political opportunists and religious extremists."

“Such incidents badly harm the country’s dignity with the international community and the country’s fledgling democratic transition could be destabilized by the communal fighting,” he said yesterday.

But Human Rights Watch today called on the government to probe the failure of police in Meikhtila, where violence broke out on March 20, allegedly following a dispute between a Muslim shopkeeper and a Buddhist customer.

“The government should investigate responsibility for the violence in Meikhtila and the failure of the police to stop wanton killings and the burning of entire neighborhoods,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

State-run media reported that in 15 townships in central Myanmar, 43 people were killed and more than 1,300 homes and buildings were destroyed. About 120,000 people were displaced, according to data gathered by the United Nations.

Satellite images from Human Rights Watch show an estimated 828 buildings, mostly homes, were totally destroyed and at least 35 other buildings were partially destroyed in Meikhtila.

Win Htein, an opposition leader from Meikhtila, said the government should have done more to prevent the violence, and that it needs better trained security personnel. 

However, he added that shops have reopened and aid groups are on site to assist victims displaced from their homes.

Myo Win, a member of the Myanmar Muslim Network in Yangon, told ucanews.com the government has a responsibility to protect its citizens.

"The government has failed to offer security for minorities like us."

Last Friday, the government strongly denied any state links to the unrest after UN Human Rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana questioned the reluctance of security forces to restrain rioters.

In a radio address on Sunday night, the president said some members of the public have killed and committed arson in the spirit of anger and their actions have "tarnished the country's image" on the world stage.

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