RANGOON — Fresh inter-communal violence was reported near Rangoon over the weekend, as a mob attack by Buddhist residents of Kyaung Gone, an Irrawaddy Division town, destroyed at least three Muslim-owned homes.
The attack in Kyaung Gone, located about 110 kilometers from Rangoon, comes on the heels of an outbreak of inter-communal violence in western Burma’s Arakan State last week and raises the possibility of a further spread of anti-Muslim violence through other parts of the country.
Kyaw Khin, chief secretary of the All Myanmar Muslim Federation, said the unrest had been sparked by allegations that a Muslim man had attempted to rape a 14-year-old Buddhist girl a month ago.
He said Kyaung Gone Township police had taken the man into custody, but a crowd of Buddhist villagers gathered at the suspect’s house in the evening and destroyed the building and two homes belonging to his relatives.
“Now, the Muslim man was moved to Pathein Prison and police opened a case against him for attempted rape,” Kyaw Khin said, adding that Buddhist and Muslim leaders from the town, and from Pathein and Rangoon, met in Kyaung Gone on Sunday to discuss the situation with local authorities.
“They requested the local public not to stir up tensions between religions and different races on the basis of such criminal allegations,” he said.
A Buddhist resident of the town, who declined to be named, said the mother of the victim had reported the rape allegation to the local police on Saturday, adding that the allegation quickly spread among the town’s Buddhist population, leading to an outburst of anger.
Kyaung Gone Township administration officer Soe Tun confirmed that three houses were destroyed. He said police took control of the town on Saturday night, forcing the mob to seek other targets. “Another small hut at a Muslim cemetery was burned,” he added.
“Now, all the schools and markets are open again in the town, but the Muslim residents have fled and have not come back because they are worried about more problems,” the official said.
A Kyaung Gone Township police officer said five suspects were arrested on Monday for their involvement in the violence.
Myo Win Naing, an 88 Generation Student activist who is from Kyaung Gone, said a mob of around 500 people had destroyed the homes, adding that authorities deployed around 100 policemen over the weekend to maintain order. He added that there are about 50 Muslim-owned homes in the town.
“The girl is currently at the police station and a medical examination result will be available in about two days,” he said. “Now the residents are waiting for the investigation results, and we are worried that something might happen if the police found that she was really raped.”
Allegations of rape of Buddhist girls and women by Muslim men, or altercations between Muslims and Buddhists, commonly provide the spark for outbreaks of anti-Muslim mob violence in Burma, which have occurred in the Buddhist-majority country for decades.
Kyaw Khin, of the All Myanmar Muslim Federation, said he was concerned that the rape allegations and Saturday’s unrest could spread further anti-Muslim violence in other parts of Burma.
“I am worried that this type of violence could spread through more parts of the country,” he said. “Such incidents always cause this [inter-communal] violence in our country.”
“That’s why I would like to urge people of all religions not to start unrest because of such incidents,” Kyaw Khin said, adding that his organization had already sent a letter to President Thein Sein requesting him to increase security measures in Kyaung Gone.
Last week, a spate of anti-Muslim violence occurred in Thandwe Township, in southern Arakan State, after an argument broke out between a Buddhist motorbike taxi driver and a Muslim man. Seven Muslim villages were attacked, five people were killed and four injured, according to Burmese state-run media. The government said 487 people were left displaced and received food aid from authorities.
Last year, inter-communal violence in northern Arakan State displaced 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, while 192 people were killed. During an outbreak of violence in Meikthila and a dozen other townships in Mandalay and Pegu divisions in central Burma in March and April, 40 people were killed and 13,000 displaced.
Muslim communities and international human rights group have accused the Burma government, which is dominated by Buddhist officials, of doing little to prevent the violence, while in some cases authorities and security forces allegedly even provided tacit support for the attacks.