Updated: March 20, 2013 11:05 PM GMT
At least two people including a Buddhist monk were killed and at least three mosques destroyed in a clash between Buddhists and Muslims in Meikhtila town, central Myanmar, according to police and residents. A number of shops and homes were also vandalized.
Rioting erupted on Wednesday after a dispute between the Muslim owner of a gold shop and a Buddhist couple, sources said.
The Buddhist man was hospitalized with some injuries after allegedly being beaten up by the shop owner and his workers. In the afternoon, a mob attacked Muslim-owned gold shops in the town market and burned down Muslim houses and a mosque, a police officer said.
“Until late last night, there were violent clashes between Buddhist and Muslim groups. But the situation is now almost under control, and more police have arrived to prevent further violence,” said the officer, who declined to give his name. he confirmed that two people including a Buddhist monk were killed and three others were hospitalized on Wednesday night.
Nyunt Hlaing, an eyewitness, said some Muslim houses on the outskirts of the town were on fire on Thursday morning and hundreds of Muslims, who make up a small minority of the town’s nearly 200,000 people, were fleeing.
“We are so frightened and have prepared ourselves to leave as well,” said Nyunt Hlaing, a Buddhist man who said 15 motorbikes were burning on the street near his house.
A representative of the influential 88 Generation Students Group, Zaw Min, has been trying to calm the situation since last night.
People continue to stream into the local hospital with fire and acid burns and tensions remain high, he said.
“I am now here at a village in the town where fire has engulfed some houses. The police are firing bullets into the air to control the riots,” Zaw Min added.
The authorities declared a state of emergency in the town on Wednesday night, and the town market was closed on Thursday
Mandalay Division’s regional government is set up an inquiry to probe the unrest, local media reported.
The riots came amid rumors there will be another round of sectarian violence soon in western Myanmar's Rakhine State where deadly clashes occurred twice last year between Buddhists and Muslims.