From Associated Press, in The Weekend Australian, 23/24 March 2013
CHARRED bodies lay unclaimed on the streets after riots in a town in central Myanmar yesterday, as global pressure mounted for an end to the Buddhist-Muslim unrest. Parts of Meiktila, about 550km north of the main city of Yangon, have been reduced to ashes as the government struggles to bring the situation under control. Estimates of the casualties varied yesterday, but local MP Win Htein said about 25 people had been killed. Several bodies were seen on the streets, including the incinerated remains of one victim lying next to a burnt bicycle on a roadside late on Thursday. Angry mobs of men took to the streets for a third day after an overnight curfew ended. Flames raged from torched mosques and houses, sending acrid smoke into the sky. Mr Win Htein said angry Buddhist residents and monks were preventing authorities from putting out fires after Muslim homes were set ablaze.“The situation is getting worse,” a resident said. “People are destroying buildings here and there. Many people have been killed. We are scared and trying to stay safe at home.” At least five mosques were torched during the violence that started on Wednesday, reportedly triggered by an argument between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers. A Buddhist monk was among the first killed, inflaming tensions that led a mob to rampage through a Muslim neighbourhood.
Meiktila has a population of about 100,000 people, about a third of them Muslims, Mr Win Htein said. He said before this week’s violence, the community had 17 mosques. Mandalay state authorities have dispatched about 1200 police officers to the town.
These clashes involved ethnic Myanmarese Muslims — unlike violence last year in Rakhine state between Buddhists and ethnic Rohingyas, who are not counted in the national census and are considered foreigners by many. That violence left more than 200 people dead and 100,000 homeless. Myanmar’s Muslims – largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent – make up an estimated 4 per cent of the roughly 60 million population, although the country has not conducted a census in three decades, and some scholars say the proportion could be as high as 10 per cent.
The country has undergone rapid reforms towards democracy and economic liberalism following decades of military dictatorship and isolation. But removing strict military rule has lifted the lid on longstanding sectarian and ethnic tensions in parts of the country, and many minority groups continue to feel sidelined. The tensions are worst in states where minorities make up a sizable part of the population – such as Meiktila.
The latest violence “indicates that the ethnic Buddhist majority population is feeling increasingly emboldened to carry out attacks on the Muslims,” said Arvind Ramakrishnan, Asia analyst at London-based risk consultancy Maplecroft. “The military will be forced to act decisively in order to prevent severe loss of life and property.” He said the developments were particularly worrying since central Myanmar was of “far greater economic and political significance” than Rakhine state. Meiktila lies just off the highways connecting Mandalay to Naypyidaw and Yangon, the political and commercial capitals
ALSO SEE B Raman: “Buddhist-Muslim clashes in Meikhtila,” http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2013/03/buddhist-muslim-clashes-in-meikhtila.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+srilankaguardian%2FIGKI+%28Sri+Lanka+Guardian%29