Govt Calls for Calm after Arakan Clashes

By The Associated Press 5 June 2012

RANGOON—Burma’s government warned against “anarchic” activities on Monday after 10 Muslims were beaten to death in an area known for sectarian conflict and a dozen other people were injured in a confrontation with police.

Both events took place Sunday in Arakan State in northwestern Burma, a remote area where Buddhist and Muslim relations are strained, sometimes to the point of violence. State television warned that legal action will be taken against those who broke the law.

The report said 300 people stopped a bus carrying Muslims from a religious gathering, dragged out the 10 occupants, beat them to death and burned the vehicle in Taunggup, 300 kilometers (180 miles) north of Rangoon.

It said some anti-Muslim pamphlets had been distributed in Taunggup relating to the rape and murder of a young ethnic Rakhine girl last month, allegedly by three Muslim youths.

Ethnic conflicts are a major cause of instability in Burma, mostly involving sizable minorities along the eastern and northern borders seeking autonomy who battle against the government.

In remote Arakan, along the frontier with Bangladesh, tension between Buddhist residents and Muslims—exacerbated by religious differences—is often strained. The majority of residents are Buddhists from the Rakhine ethnic group, while there is also a large number of Muslims in the area particularly in northern Arakan State.

Separately, the television report said a mob besieged a police station to demand the release of a man they believed had been arrested in a market dispute. Twelve people were hurt and police detained nine people in that incident in the state capital Sittwe, 500 kilometers (300 miles) northwest of Rangoon.

The report said police used smoke bombs to clear out the crowd after several hours after twice failing to disperse the mob by firing shots in the air. Residents reported hearing many gunshots, but the authorities said the 12 injured people had suffered cuts and bruises.

The incidents were earlier reported—without much detail—on the website of the Information Ministry, which was launched on Monday. The reformist government of elected President Thein Sein is eager to display its openness as it seeks to attract foreign investment after years of isolation.