YANGON (AFP) – Two Buddhists have been arrested after Muslim shops were destroyed in northern Kachin State, police said Saturday, in a new outbreak of religious violence.
Myanmar is in the grip of acute religious tension after a deadly wave of unrest in March that saw monks and Buddhist mobs attack Muslim areas in violence that has edged towards the country’s main city Yangon.
But it is the first time similar violence has been reported in the majority- Christian Kachin State, which is also home to a patchwork of ethnic and religious groups who have found work in the jade and timber industries.
“We arrested two people at the scene… and are still interrogating them. We will charge them if there is enough evidence,” a police official in Kachin State told AFP, speaking anonymously, following Thursday night’s violence.
Bordering China the remote resource-rich region is currently locked in a bitter conflict between ethnic Kachin rebels and Myanmar’s army.
“About 30 people arrived in the evening and threw with stones at our shops and houses,” according to Moe Moe Lwin, 46, a Muslim woman from a village in Kachin’s Hpakant township.
“We couldn’t do anything except watch while they destroyed our shop… we will leave for a while. We have no idea how we should move forward,” she said, adding she believed outsiders were responsible for the attack.
A Buddhist villager nearby confirmed Muslim shops and houses were destroyed in three places in the area.
“We do not want to see this sort of violence. We denounce their act,” Tin Soe from a village near Hpakant township told AFP.
A renewed bout of anti-Muslim unrest in Oakkan, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Yangon, on Tuesday left one dead and saw mosques and homes destroyed, raising alarm across the country.
Attacks against Muslims — who make up an estimated four percent of Myanmar’s population — have exposed deep fractures in the formerly junta-run country and cast a shadow over reforms under a quasi-civilian regime that took power two years ago.
At least 43 people were killed and thousands left homeless in March’s flare-up which was apparently triggered by a quarrel between a Muslim gold shop owner and Buddhist customers in the central town of Meiktila.
Some monks were involved in those clashes, while others are behind a nationalistic campaign calling for a boycott of Muslim-owned shops.
Speaking after a visit this week to Meiktila, US Ambassador Derek Mitchell urged Myanmar’s authorities to do their utmost to prevent further violence and hold the perpetrators of the “terrible destruction” accountable.
“The recent anti-Muslim violence… has raised questions among many about whether this country’s historic spirit of tolerance and compassion will prevail in this new era,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
Buddhist-Muslim clashes in the western state of Rakhine last year that left around 200 people dead, mostly minority Muslim Rohingya.