Riot police exchanged gunfire with an Islamic mob in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State, on Friday afternoon after three people were reportedly killed in religious clashes.
Fourteen villages in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships were torched by rioters while authorities struggled to maintain control, according to the Facebook social networking page of a President Office’s official.
“The security forces have been trying to protect the 14 villages which burned,” said the Facebook post.
Residents from two of the villages confirmed to The Irrawaddy that nearby houses had been torched. “Residents worry about the security as there is no protection for the public at the moment,” said a Maungdaw resident.
The riot apparently broke out as worshippers were returning from Friday prayers at the Shwezar mosque around lunchtime and began throwing stones at banks and government buildings.
Five primary schools and a number of Arakanese-owned buildings were burnt down by rioters, reported The Voice Weekly journal. Burmese troops have been deployed to the area, and there have been rumors that martial law might be imposed.
An ethnic Arakanese man was reportedly slashed by a knife after he ran from his burning home.
“People are afraid of being in their homes and all, mostly children and women, have come to gather at the monastery,” said a local Buddhist monk.
Local police reportedly avoided confronting the Muslim crowd at the beginning of the trouble and then the situation quickly escalated and the riot ensued.
Witnesses say three people including a doctor and his wife have been killed so far and more than 10 villagers were wounded.
Tensions have flared in Arakan State since 10 Muslims were killed by an angry mob on Sunday. The slayings were apparent retribution after an Arakanese woman was raped and murdered, allegedly by three Muslim men, days earlier.
Meanwhile, the President’s Office called a meeting late on Friday to discuss the unrest. Ninety-six percent of Maungdaw Township is registered as Muslim despite only making up four percent of the national population, according to official data.