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Reports of armed gangs and looting after a Muslim woman apparently bumped into a Buddhist monk

Andrew Buncombe

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Muslim businesses and a mosque have come under attack in the centre of Burma in the latest outbreak of violence directed against the minority community.

Reports said that gangs armed with bricks smashed windows of the mosque and looted dozens of stores after a Muslim woman apparently bumped into a Buddhist monk.

“Police had to disperse the crowd by firing warning shots,” presidential spokesman Ye Htut said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The violence broke out in Oakkan village, located about 60 miles north of Rangoon, Burma’s commercial capital.

While it appears the violence was triggered when the Muslim woman unintentionally collided with the monk, causing him to drop his alms bowl, tension between the Muslim and Buddhist communities has been high for months.

Last year there were several sustained attacks on Muslims in Rakhine western state while earlier this year there was an attack on Muslim homes in the town of Meikhtila. The attacks resulted in the death of at least 44 people while a further 13,000 were driven from their homes. In Rakhine, there are around 100,000 Muslims living in wretched conditions in refugee camps.

A report published last week by Human Rights Watch concluded the violence unleashed on the Muslims in Rakhine was not spontaneous but was rather a coordinated undertaking involving security forces, Buddhist monks and local nationalists who insist the Rohingya are “Bengalis” who have come from outside.

“The absence of accountability against those to blame lends credence to allegations that this was a government-appointed campaign of ethnic cleansing in which crimes against humanity were committed,” said the HRW report.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been increasingly condemned for failing to speak out against violence against Muslims and tribal communities. When pressed on the matter, she has said such violence is happening because of a break-down in the rule of law.

Earlier this week, a commission appointed by the government published its recommendations on how to tackle the crisis in Rakhine. The report,  which declined to use the word Rohingya, suggested doubling the size of the security forces in the area and more education related to family planning in order to halt the growth of the Muslim community.

The recommendations have been strongly condemned by Rohingya community leaders.

“How can they say we are all immigrants?” Myo Thant, a Rohingya representative of the Democracy and Human Rights Party, told The Irrawaddy website.  “[Rakhine] is like hell, why would any Bangladeshi want to migrate to there. It makes no sense.”

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