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    Muslims in Myanmar barricade village as attacks spread

    A Muslim man from Win Kite village looks from behind the fence which residents built to protect their village from mob attacks, May 2, 2013. REUTERS/Minzayar

    Jared Ferrie
    Reuters:
    May 3, 2013
    Three Muslim men
    peered over a bamboo fence built recently to fortify their village in central
    Myanmar. They gazed across dry rice paddies towards a nearby Buddhist
    community, looking for rising dust, a sign of an approaching mob.
    It was a false
    alarm. But a day earlier, on Wednesday, about 100 Buddhists armed with sticks
    had gathered outside the fence, threatening to burn the village and kill them,
    said the villagers of Win Kite, about a two-hour drive from Myanmar’s largest
    city, Yangon.
    Police foiled that
    attack. But Muslims were taking no chances after four days of mob violence led
    by Buddhist monks in Meikhtila in March killed 44 people, mostly Muslims, and
    touched off a wave of unrest in central Myanmar that threatens to derail the
    country’s nascent economic and political reforms.
    “We have a
    plan to defend ourselves if they come and attack us,” said Kin So, adding
    that many in Win Kite had armed themselves with clubs and swords as a
    precaution for when troops and police patrolling the area pull out.
    The five-foot (1.5
    meter) fence encircling Win Kite is a vivid illustration of divisions between
    Myanmar’s Muslims and majority Buddhists that are beginning to cause problems elsewhere
    in Southeast Asia.
    Indonesian police
    said on Friday they had foiled a plan to attack Myanmar’s embassy in Jakarta,
    arresting two men late on Thursday and seizing explosives.
    A spokesman told
    reporters the suspects had planned the attack in protest at the treatment of
    Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. At least 192 people, mostly Rohingya, were killed
    last year in clashes with Buddhists in Rakhine State.
    In April, eight
    people died when Muslim and Buddhist refugees clashed at an Indonesian
    immigration center.
    On April 30, one
    man was killed in riots in Oakkan and nearby villages just 100 km (60 miles)
    north of Yangon, when a Muslim woman bumped into an 11-year-old novice monk,
    who dropped his alms bowl, damaging it.
    The authorities are
    aware that such mundane incidents can spiral out of control in the present
    environment. A district officer said a measure that stops crowds from gathering
    had been imposed in Taikkyi, a town near Oakkan, as a precaution.
    Presidential
    spokesman Ye Htut said in a Facebook statement the authorities had averted
    trouble in the city of Mandalay when three motorcyclists rode through a Muslim
    neighborhood shouting that Buddhist monks had come to burn down their houses.
    “Security
    personnel went to the site immediately and explained that it was not
    true,” Ye Htut said. “They assured the people of security. An
    investigation is going on to expose and detain these instigators.”
    ARRESTS
    Yangon’s deputy
    police commissioner, Thet Lwin, told Reuters 18 people had been arrested in
    connection with the Oakkan riots, including the woman who inadvertently started
    them, charged with “deliberate and malicious acts” that insult
    religion.
    “According to
    our practice, we need to send her for trial since she was involved in the root
    cause of the incident,” he said, adding that although she had bumped into
    the monk by accident, it was up to the court to decide her fate.
    In the village of
    Win Kite, a 45-minute drive down dusty roads from Oakkan, 40 members of the
    security forces guaranteed peace – for now.
    On Wednesday,
    police managed to push the mob back to Sa Phyu, a Buddhist village about a half
    hour’s walk away. There they calmed the crowd, which agreed not to attack the
    Muslims, according to Deputy Commissioner Thet Lwin.
    One man from Sa
    Phyu, who would not give his name because he feared arrest, confirmed the
    police had prevented the attack.
    A Reuters
    investigation found radical Buddhist monks had been actively involved in the
    violence in Meikhtila in March.
    People interviewed
    in Sa Phyu denied any involvement with monks and said there had not been any
    meetings or phone calls on Wednesday, adding some 700 Buddhists had gathered
    spontaneously from various villages in the area
    Myint Shwe and
    fellow Muslims in Win Kite fear the mob will return and they remain virtual
    prisoners beyond their bamboo fence.
    “Now we have
    police and military so it’s safe,” he said. “But when the security
    forces go back, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
    (Additional
    reporting by Aung Hla Tun and Minzayar Oo in Myanmar and Kanupriya Kapoor in
    Jakarta; Editing by Alan Raybould and Nick Macfie)