Myanmar mob torches mosque as religious tensions spike

United Nations rights investigator Yanghee Lee meets with displaced Mro ethnics, a sub ethnic of Rakhine, during her 12-day trip to Myanmar. PHOTO: EPA

Yangon (AFP) - A mob wielding weapons razed a Muslim prayer hall in northern Myanmar, state media reported on Saturday (July 2), the second attack on a mosque in just over a week as anti-Muslim sentiment swells in the Buddhist majority nation.

Myanmar has struggled to contain bouts of deadly religious bloodshed in recent years, with bristling sectarian tensions and rising Buddhist nationalism posing a steep challenge to the new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

On Friday, villagers in Hpakant, a jade-mining town in northern Kachin state, ransacked a mosque "wielding sticks, knives and other weapons" before burning it down, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.

"The mob was unresponsive and entirely beyond control. The building was razed by the riotous crowd," the paper reported, adding that the rampage was sparked by a dispute over the mosque's construction.

No arrests have been made, it said.

The riot coincided with the end of a 12-day visit by a United Nations rights investigator who warned that "tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society".

In a press conference concluding her trip on Friday, Ms Yanghee Lee called on authorities to investigate the destruction of another mosque in central Bago late last month.

"The government must demonstrate that instigating and committing violence against an ethnic or religious minority community has no place in Myanmar," she said.

Religious intolerance has mushroomed across the country in recent years, threatening to unravel advances towards democracy since the former junta stepped down in 2011.

Authorities have been reluctant to launch prosecutions out of fear of stoking further unrest.

The worst religious violence struck western Rakhine State in 2012, leaving scores dead and pushing tens of thousands of the stateless Muslim Rohingya into destitute displacement camps.

The state remains almost completely divided on religious grounds, with Muslim communities subject to a host of restrictions on their movements and access to basic services and employment.

Ms Lee urged the country's new government to make ending "institutionalised discrimination against Muslim communities in state... an urgent priority".

Ms Suu Kyi, the Noble peace prize winner who championed her country's struggle against a repressive military regime, has dismayed rights groups by not taking swifter moves to carve out a solution for the Rohingya.

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