Yangon: Anti-Muslim mobs rampaged through three more towns in Myanmar's predominantly Buddhist heartland over the weekend, destroying mosques and burning dozens of homes despite government efforts to stop the nation's latest outbreak of sectarian violence from spreading.
President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in central Myanmar on Friday and deployed army troops to the worst hit city, Meikhtila, where 32 people were killed and 10,000 mostly Muslim residents were displaced. But even as soldiers imposed order there after several days of anarchy that saw armed Buddhists torch the city's Muslim quarters, anti-Muslim unrest has spread south toward the capital, Naypyitaw.
A Muslim resident of Tatkone, about 80 kilometers from Meikhtila, said by telephone that a group of about 20 men ransacked a one-story brick mosque there late yesterday night, pelting it with stones and smashing windows before soldiers fired shots to drive them away. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, he said he believed the perpetrators were not from Tatkone.
A day earlier, another mob burned down a mosque and 50 homes in the nearby town of Yamethin, state television reported. Another mosque and several buildings were also destroyed the same day in Lewei, farther south. It was not immediately clear who was behind the violence, and no clashes or casualties were reported in the three towns.
The upsurge in sectarian unrest is casting a shadow over Thein Sein's administration as it struggles to bring democratic reform the Southeast Asian country after half a century of Army rule officially ended two years ago this month.
Two similar episodes rocked western Rakhine state last year, pitting ethnic Rakhine Buddhists against Rohingya Muslims in bloodshed that killed hundreds and drove 100,000 from their homes.
The Rohingya are widely denigrated as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and most are denied passports as a result. The Muslim population of central Myanmar, by contrast, is mostly of Indian origin and does not face the same questions over nationality.
The emergence of sectarian conflict beyond Rakhine state is an ominous development, one that indicates anti-Muslim sentiment has intensified nationwide since last year and, if left unchecked, could spread.