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1,000 Buddhists mob torches, homes, shops in Burma over alleged Muslim criminal

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 26th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

At least a thousand members of a Buddhist mob set fire to dozens of homes and shops in northwestern Burma after rumors that a Muslim man tried to sexually assault a young woman. Rioters sang the country's national anthem during the melee. The group only broke up after security forces arrived, shooting into the air. No injuries were reported.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The hours-long riot took place in Htan Gone village, located 10 miles south of the town of Kantbalu in the region of Sagaing, The riot began Saturday after a crowd surrounded a police station and demanded that the suspect in the attempted assault be handed over.

"People descended on our village with swords and spears, and sang the national anthem and began destroying shops and burned houses," a 48-year-old Muslim man whose house was burned said. "Police shouted at the mob to disperse, but did not take any serious action."

One man who lives with his elderly parents said his family had to flee when the mob burned their house down.

"We hid my parents and two sisters in a cemetery before the mob burned our house, and we fled later," he said. He and his family were taking refuge Sunday at a Muslim school.

State television reported that about 42 houses and 15 shops were burned and destroyed, the majority of the structures belonging to Muslims.

The predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million has been grappling with sectarian violence since the country's military rulers handed over power to a nominally civilian government in 2011.

The ongoing discontent has killed more than 250 people and left 140,000 others displaced. The touchstone event began last year in the western state of Rakhine, when nationalist Buddhists accused the Rohingya Muslim community of illegally entering the country and encroaching on their land.

Unrest spread earlier this year to other parts of the country, fuelling deep-seeded prejudices against the Islamic minority and threatening Burma's fragile transition to democracy. Almost all of the victims have been Muslims, often attacked as security forces stood by.

Myint Naing, an opposition lawmaker says Muslims and Buddhists have lived side-by-side in the area for many years.

"There is a mosque in almost every village in our township and we live a peaceful coexistence," he said as he headed to the scene, adding that at least one mosque was burned down in the violence.

"I cannot understand why the authorities were unable to control the crowd when it originally started," he said.

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