Police guard village after destruction of mosque

YANGON • Scores of police have been deployed to guard a village in central Myanmar where religious tensions are running high after a Buddhist mob destroyed a mosque, the authorities said yesterday.

It is the latest flare-up of anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar, which has seen sporadic bouts of religious bloodshed since 2012, with a surge in Buddhist nationalism presenting a key challenge for Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's new government.

The most recent violence erupted last week when a mob of around 200 Buddhists rampaged through a Muslim area of a village in Bago province following an argument between neighbours over the building of a Muslim school.

Local police chief Own Lwin said the atmosphere remained tense yesterday, with around 100 police officers deployed to keep the peace.

"Last night, 50 police guarded the village to prepare for rumours that there might be more unrest. Now we have arranged a police force of up to 100 officers," he said, adding that no arrests have been made over the destruction of the mosque.

The mosque's secretary, Win Shwe, said Muslim residents fear for their safety and are planning to move to a nearby town until the tension cools.

"Our situation is not safe and now we are planning to leave the village... We still feel afraid," he said.

Strident anti-Muslim sentiment has fomented across Myanmar in recent years, with outbreaks of violence threatening to unravel democratic gains since the ruling junta stepped down in 2011.

The worst religious violence has struck central Myanmar and western Rakhine state, which is home to the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, tens of thousands of whom are still languishing in displacement camps after riots.

Hardline monks and Buddhist nationalists fiercely oppose moves to recognise the Rohingya as an official minority and insist on calling them "Bengalis" - shorthand for illegal migrants from across the border with Bangladesh.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'Police guard village after destruction of mosque'. Print Edition | Subscribe