Tensions flared in northwestern Myanmar after 10 Muslims were beaten to death by a mob of Buddhist vigilantes Sunday in retaliation to the rape and murder of a girl allegedly by Muslim men.
About 300 people belonging to the Buddhist majority stopped a bus carrying Muslims from a religious gathering, dragged 10 of them out and beat them to death before burning the vehicle in Taunggup, in the state of Rakhine, 300 kilometers north of Yangon, the state television reported.
Anti-Muslim pamphlets were distributed in the region after a young Rakhine girl had been allegedly raped and murdered by three Muslim men.
Over a dozen people were injured in confrontation with the police when a mob besieged a police station demanding the release of a man arrested in a market dispute in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, about 500 kilometers northwest of Yangon. The police fired warning shots using rubber bullets and used teargas to disperse the mob, an AFP report said. Nine people were detained and 12 others were injured.
The Myanmar government issued a warning against anarchic activities Monday, assuring that legal action would be taken against those involved.
Nowadays peaceful assembly and peaceful rallies for democracy and human rights are being allowed under the law, said the state television in a report on the attacks. But such an anarchic and unlawful gathering and acts are not permitted. So a necessary investigation will be conducted into this event.
Remote Rakhine, along the Bangladesh border, is an area known for incidences of sectarian violence between the Buddhist residents and the Muslim minority.
In February 2001, the then-ruling junta declared a curfew in Sittwe after violent clashes between the Muslims and the Buddhists broke out. Buddhist monks widely distributed inflammatory anti-Muslim pamphlets inciting hatred, fueled by the destruction of Buddhist images in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in March 2001, and the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, DC.
About 200 Muslims were killed and 11 mosques and 400 buses were destroyed in a riot that broke out in Taungoo, Pegu division, May 15, 2001.
The Buddhists comprise 89 percent of Myanmar's population while the Muslims represent four percent. The Muslim minority consists of the Rohingya people and the descendents of Muslim immigrants from neighboring India, Bangladesh, China and early Arab and Persian settlers.
According to an Amnesty International report, the Rohingya have been subjected to various human rights violations under the junta rule since 1978.
The Rohingyas' freedom of movement is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma citizenship, Amnesty said in a report in 2004.
They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction; and financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingyas continue to be used as forced laborers on roads and at military camps, although the amount of forced labor in northern Rakhine State has decreased over the last decade.
However, unconfirmed sources said that none of those killed Sunday by the Buddhists were Rohingyas, Reuters reported quoting Ko Kyaw Lay, a local Muslim and a human rights activist who belongs to an opposition party.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) won 81 percent seats in the Parliament in the recent elections, is a practicing Buddhist.
Buddhist monks and students have always been at the forefront of Myanmar's struggle for independence and later for democracy. In September 2007, the Buddhists took to the streets in a mass uprising against the military junta.