RANGOON—At least one Islamic neighborhood in Pegu Division was attacked by an unidentified group of men on Thursday night and several buildings were destroyed, local police said. It was the only confirmed incident on the ninth day of anti-Muslim attacks in central Burma.
A senior officer at Padigon Township Police Station said an armed mob of about 50 men entered the town between 10 and 11 pm Thursday and attacked the local Muslim quarter.
“They destroyed two houses and three shops. When we arrived there they ran away,” said the policeman, who declined to be named as he was unauthorized to speak to the media.
An officer at Thaekon Township Police Station said no incidents were reported there on Thursday. Policemen at two other Pegu Division townships declined to speak to a reporter.
Several Muslim leaders contacted on Friday said they had also heard that Padigon Township’s Islamic neighborhood had been attacked. “The mob entered into town on a ten-wheeler truck without a license plate,” said Kyaw Khin, chief secretary of the All Burma Muslim Federation.
On Wednesday night, attackers had also targeted Padigon, a township located about 170 km (about 100 miles) north of Rangoon.
Kyaw Khin said that several Muslim leaders met with Pegu Division’s chief minister on Friday to discuss how authorities can assist affected communities and help those who fled their homes during the anti-Muslim attacks.
It seems likely that hundreds of Muslims fled the towns in Pegu Division, but Kyaw Khin said the total figure remains unclear.
“We have already set up one refugee camp and we are going to set up more,” he said, adding that 186 people were staying at the camp located near a village named Mayway.
Five Pegu Division townships and six Mandalay Division townships have been affected by the riots, which first broke out in Meikhtila Township on March 20. Some 12,000 residents were displaced there.
According to police figures released on Thursday, a total of 42 people were killed and 93 were hospitalized in the riots, most of them in Meikhtila, while 1,227 homes, 77 shops and 37 mosques were destroyed. Police said 68 detainees were being charged for their role in the unrest.
Since the violence began it has spread to several new townships every day. The fact that just one incident was reported on Thursday could indicate that the violence is lessening.
President Thein Sein warned in a national speech on Thursday that he would use force if necessary to protect lives and property during the violence. He alleged that “political opportunists and religious extremists” had been involved in orchestrating the anti-Muslim violence.
US officials and a UN envoy welcomed Thein Sein’s speech, but cautioned against a heavy-handed government response to the riots.
“We support his call for tolerance and mutual respect, for democracy, for religious pluralism and transparency. These were messages that his country did need to hear from their president,” US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Thursday.
“We also continue to encourage the government, in its efforts to restore calm,” she said, before adding, “We underscore, once again, that security measures should protect human rights, not violate them.”
UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana was highly critical of the government efforts and even alleged that state actors were complicit in the violence.
“The government has simply not done enough to address the spread of discrimination and prejudice against Muslim communities,” he said in a statement.
“I have received reports of state involvement in some of the acts of violence, and of instances where the military, police and other civilian law enforcement forces have been standing by while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes,” Quintana said.
The President’s spokesman Ye Htut dismissed the allegations on Friday.
“We absolutely deny it. It is sad that Mr Quintana doesn’t study situations on the ground correctly, and what he said is based on second-hand reports,” Ye Htut said in a Facebook post.
“What he said is just like turning a blind eye to the government, security forces, religious leaders and civil society groups’ collaboration in trying to put everything under control.”