Lifestyle & Belief

Myanmar: Anti-Muslim violence spreads beyond Meikhtila


Burnt kitchenware sits on a shelf at house which was burnt in communal violence in Yamethin, near the capital Naypyidaw, after unrest spread in central Myanmar on March 24, 2013.


Soe Than WIN

Sectarian violence in Myanmar is worsening, with reports of anti-Muslim attacks in at least three more towns.

After riots that triggered a state of emergency in the central town of Meikhtila last week, over the weekend the unrest spread south as far as the outskirts of the capital, Naypyitaw.

Mosques and dozens of houses belonging to Muslims were destroyed in the townships of Yamethin, Lewei and Tatkone, residents said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

"Around 100 people turned up shouting 'Let's burn it down, let's burn it down,' and started destroying our house first," one shop owner in Yamethin told Reuters.

More from GlobalPost: Anti-Muslim riots inflame Meikhtila

Tension between Buddhists, the country's dominant religious group, and Muslims is fast becoming one of the thorniest and least-anticipated problems in reform-era Myanmar.

Myanmar's Buddhist monks — widely seen as heroic icons for leading protests against the domineering military — don't always sound so peaceful when the subject of Muslims comes up, as GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Patrick Winn has reported.

Recently in Mandalay, Winn asked a 27-year-old monk for his thoughts on the Muslim Rohingya. "They're extremely violent people," he said. "They're brutal. They rape girls. They're kalars." The word "kalar" is a highly derogatory Burmese term often applied to Muslims, particularly those with dark South Asian complexions.

Fears that the attacks would reach Yangon, Myanmar's largest city some 300 miles south of Meikhtila, prompted many local businesses to close early on Monday, according to the Associated Press.

More than 50 people have been arrested over the violence so far, most of them in Meikhtila. The majority of the suspects are Buddhists, a local official told the BBC.

The army has been deployed there since the government declared martial law on Friday following at least 32 deaths. Though soldiers have begun to restore order, thousands of people were displaced and are now living in makeshift camps.

The government says it is willing to send troops in elsewhere if necessary, the UN's special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, told Reuters.

Authorities today urged people to "refrain from terrorist acts and religious extremism" that might threaten recent democratic reforms. In a statement read on national TV, the government promised to "address all terrorist attacks including incitements for racial and religious attacks," as well as providing emergency supplies for those displaced.

Senior Correspondent Patrick Winn contributed reporting. Follow him on Twitter @BKKApologist.