Myanmar convicts five over fake rape claim that sparked riots

YANGON (REUTERS) - A Myanmar court convicted five people for spreading fabricated allegations that a Muslim man raped a Buddhist woman, which led to deadly riots last July, a court official said on Friday.

One Buddhist and one Muslim man were killed during two days of rioting in the central city of Mandalay, which began when a mob of about 300 Buddhists swarmed a tea shop owned by a Muslim man accused of raping a female Buddhist employee.

Among those sentenced to 21 years in prison was Phyu Phyu Min, who filed a case with police in Pyinmana, a town near Mandalay, claiming she had been raped. She later confessed that she was paid to file the false complaint. "Their false charge of offence sparked a riot in our peaceful society, leading to the death of two, causing distrust and conflicts between two communities," said a Mandalay Region court official who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

President Thein Sein's government launched sweeping political and economic reforms after he took office in 2011 following 49 years of military rule. However, it has struggled to contain outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence in which at least 240 people have been killed since June 2012.

Most of the victims have been Muslims and riots are often preceded by claims that a Muslim man raped a Buddhist woman, as was the case in Mandalay.