Friday, 22 March 2013 12:38 Mizzima News
Angry mobs took to the streets of Meiktila for a third day on Friday, AFP reported, as local security forces appear unable or unwilling to contain communal unrest that has reportedly left 10 people dead.
“Groups of men again roamed the debris-strewn streets after an overnight curfew ended,” AFP said.
Speaking to Mizzima, Nyan Lin, a member of the 88 Generation Students group, said, “Security forces were beefed up in the town, but they just stood watching the rioters, and did not take any action.”
On Thursday, Win Htein, a local lawmaker with the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), put the death toll at 10, saying he had seen bodies at the scene of clashes. A local resident confirmed the number of dead to AFP.
Myanmar state media on Friday said five people had died—a Buddhist monk, three men and a woman—with nearly 40 injured in rioting.
Violence broke out in the central Myanmar town on Wednesday after an altercation at a Muslim-owned gold shop. A crowd of local Buddhists gathered and burned down the shop and some neighboring houses. Clashes between rival groups quickly ensued.
A curfew was imposed on Wednesday night.
Nyan Lin said that the authorities need to do much more to effectively control the violence.
On Thursday morning, a police official told Mizzima: “We’ve detained three people for violence, but we have not been able to apprehend the main suspects.”
Another official from Meiktila Police Station No 2, Myo Min Oo, told Mizzima on Thursday that “We [police] have the situation under control. Calm has been restored. This is all we can say.”
Both police officials confirmed they had been authorized to disperse the mobs under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. However, several local residents confirmed to Mizzima that no attempt was made by security forces to mediate and that when violence flared the police stood back and watched.
Nyan Lin said that he and 10 other members of the 88 Generation Students group, including leader Min Ko Naing, arrived in Meiktila on the night of March 20. He said they witnessed about 25 houses burning and about five people wounded.
Zaw Min, another member of the 88 generation team, said that security forces had enough time to prepare for the operation, but that they failed to do so.
Meiktila resident Maung Maung told Mizzima that ordinary people—Buddhists and Muslims alike—are opposed to the violence, but that about 50 people from both sides participated in the rioting.
Lower House MP Win Htein said that Meiktila had no history of sectarian unrest. He said he believed the root of the problem was a sense of resentful over sectarian clashes in Rakhine State.
He said, “There were some individuals who incited the crowd to violence. But I do not believe any organization was pulling the strings.”
Sources told Mizzima that several Meiktila residents had fled the town in fear, and that many had gone to the nearby towns of Taunggyi or Thazi. Others had taken refuge at Meiktila Football Stadium or in Buddhist monasteries, they said.
Wunna Shwe, the general-secretary of the Islamic Religious Affairs Council, said there were weaknesses in the rule of law and called the incident “political”.
Some residents complained on Thursday evening that the town was already suffering from food shortages.
Outspoken Buddhist monk Shwe Nya Wah Sayadaw, who went to Meiktila to help dissolve the tensions, told Mizzima that he thought that the sectarian clashes might be related to political maneuvering, though he did not want to speculate who might be behind it.
He called on the local authorities, residents and Buddhist monks to prevent the riots. “They should not neglect the issue as though it is not related to them,” he said. “That is the message that I tried to convey.”
Meiktila has a population of 80,000, some 30,000 of whom are Muslims.