Panic Strikes in Pakokku Town Following Rumors of Sectarian Violence

By Zarni Mann 13 June 2013

RANGOON — Dozens of panicked families in Pakokku, Magwe Division, began pulling their children from school on Thursday afternoon after rumors spread through the town that inter-communal violence had broken out.

The panic was sparked by reports that a local primary school in the central Burmese town was being burned down by a group of Muslims. A Pakokku Township police officer told The Irrawaddy however, that there was no fire at the school.

A fire engine had been sent to the primary school, located in the town’s Quarter No.3, and police had been deployed, said the officer, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak with the media.

“Currently, we posted policemen at every school and public area, such as markets, to guard the town and prevent violence,” he said.

The rumor was reportedly spread by a group of unknown men on four motorbikes, who sped through the town shouting that Muslim residents were burning down the school.

“We are locating them and investigating who they are,” the officer said. “If we catch the people who are spreading such rumors and trying to start violence, we will severely punish them.”

Despite these police actions, dozens of panicked parents raced to the primary school in Quarter No. 3 to pull their children from classes.

“The police are explaining to the parents that they should not worry as they control the area. They are assuring them that they will not allow any incident to happen,” one of the parents said by phone. “The teachers did not allow the students to go until school time is over.”

The parent, who preferred not be named, said many worried residents were also shutting down businesses in the town, which is located about 30 km north of Bagan.

“At the central market some shops owned by Muslims were closed immediately after the rumors spread, out of fear that violence might occur like it has in other towns,” he said.

“The situation in the afternoon is quite stable,” the man said, “But we still are worried that something might happen.”

During a similar incident last week, dozens of parents in Mandalay began pulling their children from school after a group of motorcyclist drove around the city shouting that Muslims were attacking a local school.

The panic in Pakkoku is another indication of the anxiety among communities in Burma, following several deadly outbreaks of violence between Buddhists and Muslims residents in towns across the country this year.