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Sectarian violence leaves 25 dead near Mandalay

Six mosques burned, thousands of Muslims flee their homes

Sectarian violence leaves 25 dead near Mandalay
Residents walk past burning buildings in Meikhtila in central Myanmar(AFP photo/Soe Than Win)

Published: March 22, 2013 08:43 AM GMT

Updated: March 24, 2013 10:39 PM GMT

Charred bodies littered the streets of Meikhtila on Friday morning, and sectarian clashes that started on Wednesday continued unabated, according to local authorities and residents.

The government announced last night the death toll stood at 5 and 39 people been injured during the clashes, but a local parliamentarian said the death toll has reached 25.  

Win Htein, from the opposition National League for Democracy, said the situation is uncontrolled and some areas of the town are still burning.

At least six mosques burned down, and thousands of Muslims have fled to the countryside near Mandalay in central Myanmar.

Aung Thein, a local resident, said in one spot there were five burnt corpses on Friday morning and rioters were roaming the town armed with sticks and knives.

“The mobs destroyed the mosques in the town yesterday and are now trying to burn down the biggest mosque today. All of these activities are no less than anarchical acts,” he said.

The government on Thursday said it has bolstered the police force in town and vowed to take stern actions against the rioters.

However, residents are increasingly suspicious that the government is letting the chaos become bigger without taking any drastic measures to quell the violence.

“Riot troops are just making rounds in the town. They are merely standing by while mobs are burning houses and mosques,” said one resident who did not want to be identified. “The current government… is very insincere. It wants to create chaos and projects the image that the army plays an integral role in the country.”

A police officer at the scene said security forces have not been authorized to shoot rioters. They have been ordered to confiscate weapons from the public, he said.

Another officer said they had been authorized to shoot rioters below the waist.

It remains unclear how many people have become homeless in the three days of arson attacks and rioting, but the locals said many Muslims have already fled Meikhtila and some Buddhist families have also fled in fear of further clashes.

Food shortages could become a problem if further unrest takes place and shops remain closed. The authorities have announced the closure of universities in town.

The clashes started from a dispute on Wednesday morning between a Muslim shop owner and a Myanmar customer in the town market, but the locals said tensions between the two communities started during last year’s sectarian violence between majority Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state of western Myanmar.

Win Htein said there were around 30,000 Muslims in Meiktila out of a total population of around 80,000 but that no similar clashes had happened in his lifetime.

In a statement on Friday, Vijay Nambiar, the UN special advisor on Myanmar, urged religious and community leaders to call for calm, saying that the "most urgent priority" was to soothe tensions and establish peace. British and American authorities echoed the call for peace.

Calling for "an immediate end to the violence," British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt urged Myanmar's government "to take all necessary action to protect civilians" and "to tackle the hostility that is behind this."

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