Meikhtila: Myanmar's army took control of a ruined central city today, regaining control after several days of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims that killed dozens of people and left scores of buildings in flames in the worst sectarian bloodshed to hit the Southeast Asian nation this year.
Truckloads of soldiers could be seen patrolling Meikhtila and taking up positions at intersections and banks as some residents, who had cowered in their homes for days since the mayhem began Wednesday, began wandering their streets to take in the destruction.
President Thein Sein imposed a state of emergency in the region yesterday in a bid to stop the violence from spreading.
The unrest, the first of its kind reported in Myanmar since a wave of bloodshed shook western Rakhine state twice last year, underscored the government's failure to reign in anti-Muslim sentiment in the predominantly Buddhist country, where even leading monks have staged anti-Muslim rallies that critics say have set the stage for further violence.
It was not immediately clear which side bore the brunt of the latest unrest, but terrified Muslims, who make about 30 per cent of Meikhtila's 100,000 inhabitants, stayed off the streets yesterday as their shops and homes burned and some angry Buddhist residents and monks tried to stop firefighters from dousing the blazes. Riot police crisscrossed town seizing machetes and hammers from enraged Buddhist mobs.
At least five mosques were torched and thousands of terrified Muslims have fled their homes, escorted to safety by police to two make-shift camps. Some Buddhists, meanwhile, have sought shelter at local monasteries.
"Calm has been restored after troops have taken charge of security, said Win Htein, an opposition lawmaker from Meikhtila. "So far, nearly 6,000 Muslim people have been relocated at a stadium and a police station for their safety."
Little appeared to be left of some palm tree-lined neighbourhoods, where whole plots were reduced to smoldering masses of twisted debris and ash. Broken glass, destroyed motorcycles and overturned tables littered roads beside rows of burnt-out homes and shops, evidence of the widespread chaos of the last two days.
Residents described gruesome scenes. Local businessman San Hlaing said he counted 28 bodies this week and had seen blackened corpses burning in piles.