Sagaing Police Arrest More Suspects After Latest Sectarian Unrest

By Man Thar Lay 30 August 2013

MANDALAY — The police are continuing to arrest suspects after a Buddhist mob set fire to dozens of Muslim-owned homes and businesses in northwest Burma’s Sagaing Division last weekend in the latest communal violence to hit the country.

Eleven people were initially arrested after a 1,000-strong Buddhist mob rioted late last Saturday night in Htan Gone village, 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of the town of Kantbalu. Police said this week that they were continuing to arrest more suspects from 12 neighboring villages.

“Currently I cannot disclose exactly how many people have been detained,” a police spokesman in Htan Gone, told The Irrawaddy. “At the very start of the conflict, we arrested 11 culprits. We had been ordered to do so.”

Forty-eight houses and 13 shops owned by Muslims were reportedly burned in the rioting, displacing 292 people.

State-run media reported that fire trucks arriving to the scene were initially blocked by the rioters, who attacked the rescuers with swords, sticks and slingshots. Police fired a warning shot to clear a path for the fire trucks, after earlier firing another warning shot to disperse the mob. A police battalion and firefighters managed to control the fires by about 3:30 am, more than seven hours after the rioting began.

“Responsible persons from respective police stations have been arranging to arrest those who set the fires in the village during the conflict,” said Kyi Naing, a minister for border affairs and security in Sagaing Division told The Irrawaddy.

“We wanted to bust the culprits earlier but we couldn’t, as we were occupied with the duties of putting down the fires and preventing further religious rioting.”

A shelter was set up for displaced Muslim residents at an Arabic school in Htan Gone’s Quarter No. 1. Some displaced residents are also staying with relatives.

“Frankly speaking, we don’t dare return to our houses yet,” Than Nweh, whose café was burned down in the rioting, told The Irrawaddy.

The conflict reportedly began after rumors circulated last Saturday that a young Muslim man had attempted to rape a Buddhist woman.

The man was brought to the village police station and transferred to Shwe Bo Prison, but a mob of about 100 men gathered at the station and demanded that police hand him over. Rioting began after the police refused. At the height of the violence, up to 1,000 people were rampaging through the village, according to the Information Ministry.

Aung Kyaw Myint, an administrator of Zi Pin village, said he witnessed part of the incident between the Buddhist woman and Muslim man from which the rumors of attempted rape arose.

He said a 17-year-old Muslim boy met a 25-year-old woman who was riding a bicycle home and attempted to hold her hands.

“On that day, the young lady came running to us from the paddy field to ask for help. So we chased after that boy,” Aung Kyaw Myint said. “That boy was running to the village of the young lady, instead of his village. So we went to the village searching for him. After the boy was caught, he was taken by two policemen. In the aftermath of the issue, more and more people accumulated and a crowd went out to stir up problems in Htan Gone village.”

The conflict in Htan Gone is the latest sectarian violence to hit Buddhist-majority Burma. Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in west Burma last year left about 150,000 people displaced and about 200 dead. Violence spread earlier this year, with anti-Muslim riots breaking out in towns in central Burma and east Burma.