Islamisation of Burma?


YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Security forces in western Myanmar fired on rioters who burned hundreds of homes in an outbreak of sectarian violence that killed at least seven people, state-controlled news media reported Saturday, adding that calm had been restored.

The rioting on Friday reflected longstanding tensions in the state of Rakhine between Buddhist residents and Muslims, many of whom are considered to be illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh. Although the root of the problem is localized — centering on the resentment of the settlers — there is fear that the trouble could spread elsewhere because of the religious divide.

The state-run newspaper Myanma Ahlin said security forces had to open fire to restrain the rioters, and state television said soldiers had been deployed to help the police in Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was applied, and public gatherings of more than five people banned.

According to the television report, seven people were killed and 17 wounded. It said 494 houses, 19 shops and a guesthouse were burned down.

Myanma Ahlin said that about 1,000 “terrorists” were responsible for the rampage, and that some of them stormed Maungdaw General Hospital. State news media did not otherwise identify the rioters, but the area is 90 percent Muslim, and residents contacted by telephone said the people in the mob were Muslims. The dead were evidently all Buddhists, judging by the names of the victims mentioned in the newspaper, which added that those hurt had knife wounds. It was not clear whether the security forces were responsible for any of the casualties.

The trigger for the latest round of violence was the rape and killing of a young Buddhist girl last month. Three Muslim youths have been put on trial, Myanma Ahlin reported on Saturday. Some anti-Muslim pamphlets were circulated about the crime, apparently inflaming local Buddhists. On June 3, 10 Muslims were killed by a mob that attacked a bus carrying them from a religious gathering in the town of Taungup in Rakhine State.