RANGOON — Mosques and some Muslim-owned properties were destroyed on Tuesday in a town near Rangoon in the latest round of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims.
Kyaw Khin, the chief secretary of the All Burma Muslim Federation, confirmed that two mosques and a number of houses and business in Okkan, a small town about 100 kilometers northwest of Rangoon, were attacked.
“There’s no casualties so far, but people are fleeing their homes for fear of coming under attack,” he told The Irrawaddy.
The violence was sparked by an accident around 10 am when a Muslim woman on a bicycle knocked down a novice Buddhist monk in a market area, spilling the monk’s food, according to witnesses.
“The young monk was crying, and the woman didn’t apologize for what she did,” said Aung Zaw Oo, a merchant who runs a rice shop in the market.
Both the woman and the novice monk were taken to a local police station to settle the dispute, he continued, and word of the accident spread, causing a huge crowd to gather in front of the police station.
“Shortly after noon, an angry mob started to go wild,” said the merchant. “Two mosques were partially destroyed. Muslim-owned poultry farms and cattle farms were torched,” he added.
Aung Zaw Oo said when the mob turned violent, the local police tried to control the situation, but they were outnumbered.
“When they [the police] tried to prevent an attack on a building, another mob rampaged in other areas,” he explained.
But with the arrival of more riot police from Rangoon, the situation in Okkan seemed to calm down by mid-afternoon.
“Now we have nearly 100 police with riot gear. They are patrolling the town,” said the rice merchant.
Kyaw Khin said he believes that the incident was instigated on purpose to cause instability between Buddhist and Muslim communities.
“Every time there has been unrest between the two communities it was sparked by an accident or something like that. It happened throughout the country so that I don’t know how to explain it,” he said.
The violence comes just two days after the government released details of its report into violence against Muslim Rohingya last year in Arakan State, which advocated a stronger security presence, segregation and family planning education to solve the tension. In March, at least 43 Muslims were killed and more than 12,000 displaced in anti-Muslim violence in central Burma.