Two more townships in central Burma were placed under a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Wednesday evening as religious violence targeting Muslims continues to spread across the country.
A curfew was issued under article-144 of Burma’s draconian penal code in Pegu division’s Zigon and Nattalin townships after mobs vandalised Muslim homes and businesses throughout Tuesday and Wednesday this week.
Two other towns, Moenyo and Thegon, were also engulfed by violence on Wednesday night, as Muslim homes and mosques were ravaged by angry Buddhist mobs. Police in Thegon reportedly fired rubber bullets into the crowd, injuring seven people.
A local resident in Zigon told DVB that Buddhist mobs attacked and vandalised mosques and dozens of houses, while security forces stood idly by and watched.
“There was no security – police or military – whatsoever while the vandalising took place. Muslim residents had already fled to nearby villages prior to the attack when they heard the news,” she said, adding that no fatalities had been reported.
“We can only sit and watch as these human rights violations are taking place – this is very sad.”
Two men, including a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party the National League for Democracy (NLD), were reportedly wounded — one shot in the head and the other in the stomach — on Wednesday afternoon in Zigon.
A local from Nattalin township told DVB that the riots, which swept the area on Tuesday evening, seemed well-organised and pre-planned.
“It started around 11pm with a large number of people entering the town from the west and the police had to move aside. They didn’t burn the building but destroyed a mosque. Then more police and soldiers arrived but did nothing to stop them,” said the Nattalin local.
It echoes claims by the UN’s special enjoy Vijay Nambiar — who recently visited Meikhtila township, where violence flared last Wednesday — that attacks had been executed with “brutal efficiency” and fuelled by “incendiary propaganda”.
“Most of the people I spoke to tended to suggest the attacks were perpetrated by people they did not really recognise, and they may have been outsiders. But clearly they were targeted,” Nambiar said.
A number of prominent monks are known to have led vocal hate campaigns against Muslims in the Mandalay region ahead of last week’s violence. This includes preaching Islamophobic sermons and circulating inflammatory leaflets.
Anti-Muslim attacks also swept through Pegu division’s Gyobingauk township on Monday, and Oakpho and Minhla townships on Sunday. Curfews were later introduced in all three townships, and the police in Oakpho have reportedly detained five people suspected of instigating the riot.
Muslim residents in the nearby Paungde township have largely fled the town or gone into hiding amid rumours that the violence will continue to spread. Local police confirmed that 10 people carrying sticks were detained last night under suspicion of instigating violence.
The past week’s riots represent the largest eruption of communal violence, since Rohingya Muslims and Buddhist Arakanese clashed in two bouts of vicious clashes last year, which killed at least 200 people and displaced more than 125,000.
The government and religious leaders have appealed for calm and warned that further violence could unravel the country’s fragile democratic reform programme, which was introduced by President Thein Sein in March 2011. But human rights groups insist that the government must do more to hold leading instigators, including top members of the monkhood, to account if they hope to quell the violence.