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Muslims in hiding in Myanmar after sectarian strife flares

September 29, 2013 
YANGON:
Terrified Muslims hid in their homes in northwest Myanmar on Monday after armed
police dispersed a Buddhist mob that torched houses and surrounded a mosque in
the latest outbreak of sectarian tension.
Clashes between majority Buddhists
and Muslims have killed at least 237 people and left more than 150,000 homeless
since June 2012.
The violence threatens to undermine
political and economic reforms launched in the two years since a quasi-civilian
government replaced a military junta.
The situation in the town of Thandwe
was precarious after police restored order by firing shots in the air to break
up the mob late on Sunday, said two security sources, who sought anonymity as
they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Thandwe, 260 kilometres from the
capital Yangon, is in Rakhine state, the worst-hit region. As in several
previous bouts of communal unrest, a minor disagreement triggered an outpouring
of anger, a local Muslim politician said.
“We’re now scared and hiding inside
our homes, like the previous times,” Kyaw Zan Hla, chairman of the Kaman Muslim
Party, told Reuters by telephone, adding that about 200 people had joined the
mob, some wearing masks and carrying flaming torches.
He said he had himself become
embroiled in a row after he objected to a Buddhist man parking a motorcycle in
front of his home late on Saturday and rumours spread that he had insulted
Buddhism.
Police reported no deaths or injuries
from the incident in Thandwe, home to an airport used by tourists who visit
resorts on the popular Ngapali beach nearby.
In April, the government said 192
people were killed in June and October 2012 clashes between ethnic Rakhine
Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, most of whom Myanmar regards as illegal
immigrants from Bangladesh, despite roots going back generations. The United
Nations has described the Rohingya as “virtually friendless”.
Clashes between Rohingya and Rakhines
in June 2012 led to unrest elsewhere in the country, where other groups of Muslims
have been targeted, including Kamans, who are of different ethnicity from
Rohingyas. An estimated five percent of Myanmar’s population of about 60
million is Muslim.