Buddhists in Myanmar Torch Muslim Homes and Shops (HTAN GONE Myanmar August 25, 2013 (AP)
Hundreds of Buddhists carrying sticks and swords went on a rampage in a village in northwestern Myanmar, torching dozens of homes and shops following rumors that a young woman had been sexually assaulted by a Muslim man, police and witnesses said Sunday.
There were no reports of injuries in the latest round of on-again, off-again sectarian violence to sweep the country.
The hours-long riot in Htan Gone, located 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of the town of Kantbalu in the Sagaing region of Myanmar, began late Saturday after a crowd surrounded a police station, demanding that the assault suspect be handed over, a police officer told The Associated Press. The officer requested anonymity because he did not have the authority to speak to reporters.
State television reported that about 42 houses and 15 shops were burned and destroyed — most belonging to Muslims — before security forces shot in the air to disperse the mob early Sunday.
The predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million has been grappling with sectarian violence since the country's military rulers handed over power to a nominally civilian government in 2011.
The unrest — which has killed more than 250 people and left 140,000 others displaced — began last year in the western state of Rakhine, where Buddhists accuse the Rohingya Muslim community of illegally entering the country and encroaching on their land. The violence, on a smaller scale but still deadly, spread earlier this year to other parts of the country, fueling deep-seeded prejudices against the Islamic minority and threatening Myanmar's fragile transition to democracy.
Almost all of the victims have been Muslims, often attacked as security forces stood by.
In the latest violence, hundreds of people with swords and sticks rampaged through Htan Gone village as police pleaded with the mob to disperse.
"People descended on our village with swords and spears, and sang the national anthem and began destroying shops and burned houses," said Aung San, a 48-year-old Muslim man whose house was burned. "Police shouted at the mob to disperse, but did not take any serious action."
Aung San, who lives with his parents, who are in their 70s, said his family had to flee when the mob burned their house down.
"We hid my parents and two sisters in a cemetery before the mob burned our house, and we fled later," he said. He and his family were taking refuge Sunday at a Muslim school.
Myint Naing, an opposition lawmaker who represents constituents in Kantbalu, was outraged by the latest violence.
He said Muslims and Buddhists have lived side-by-side in the area for many years.
"There is a mosque in almost every village in our township and we live a peaceful co-existence," he said as he headed to the scene, adding that at least one mosque was burned down in the violence.
"I cannot understand why the authorities were unable to control the crowd when it originally started," he said.
Read about U Wirathu, a prominent Burmese Buddhist Monk fed up with Islam: