A crowd of people (including monks, in orange robes) outside Muslim-owned stores that were trashed and set on fire in Meikhtila on Wednesday.
Photos and videos coming out of the central Burmese town of Meikhtila show rioting and attacks against Muslim-owned businesses, in the country’s worst communal violence since last year's clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the eastern part of the country. The ungoing unrest has displaced thousands and left at least 20 people dead, according to a member of parliament from Meikhtila District.
The source of the conflict remains murky. But both local police sources and Muslim activists agree that it all started with an argument between a Muslim gold-shop owner and Buddhist customers on Wednesday morning. From there, the stories diverge. A police source cited by Radio Free Asia says the shop owner broke an item belonging to the customers, leading to a brawl; Muslim activists, citing local sources, say the customers tried to sell the shop owner fake gold. Either way, the dispute quickly drew a crowd that attacked the goldsmith’s store as well as other Muslim-owned businesses.
A mob attacked Muslim-owned stores in Meikhtila on Wednesday. This video was relayed by Burmese Muslim activists living abroad.
Rioting continued during the night, on Thursday and into Friday, with plumes of smoke rising around the town; a curfew declared by the authorities was evidently ignored. Several mosques were reportedly torched.
Police say that at least two of the confirmed dead are Buddhists, one of them a monk. An AFP photographer who was able to visit the town Thursday said he saw at least three burned bodies and houses on fire.
According to MP Win Thein, who hails from Meikhtila and belongs to the opposition National League for Democracy party, there are about 30,000 Muslims in the township, out of about 80,000 total residents.
Muslims represent about four percent of Burma’s population, according to the last census. A wave of clashes between Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya, a Muslim minority, in eastern Rakhine State last year left at least 200 dead and more than 100,000 homeless, with many Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh. Last month, a Buddhist mob attacked a Muslim school and Muslim-owned stores in a suburb of Rangoon.
The aftermath of attacks on Muslim-owned stores on Wednesday. Police can be seen keeping a crowd at bay. Photo via Rohingya Blogger.