10 die in Myanmar communal clashes

DAWN, Thursday 24 May 2001, 29 Safar 1422

YANGON, May 23: Fighting between Muslim and Buddhist residents broke out in Taungdwingyi town in upper Myanmar, the latest in a spate of religious clashes that have reportedly left at least 10 people dead, eyewitnesses and diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.

Clashes between the predominantly Buddhist population of Taungdwingyi, 450 kilometres north of Yangon, and a Muslim group were reported by eyewitnesses on Tuesday night.

It was unclear whether anyone was killed in the latest clash, but similar attacks on Muslims in the townships of Taungoo, Yadashe and Nyaunglebin, all in upper Myanmar, have left at least 10 people dead, according to diplomatic sources.

“We’ve heard reports of 10 to 30 people killed and up to 40 homes destroyed,” said a Western diplomat in Yangon. “It was a pretty big rampage by the Young Buddhist Monks.”

The clash in Taungoo was sparked on May 16, when Muslim youths allegedly taunted Buddhist nuns who were making their rounds in the city with begging bowls, according to sources in Yangon.

Enraged Buddhists attacked the Muslims, who fled into a mosque with the Buddhists in hot pursuit. Sources said that the city was wracked by religious clashes for two days, leaving at least 20 people dead, including two Buddhist monks and a Muslim religious leader.

Myanmar's military junta has placed Taungoo under a night curfew, and deployed troops to other towns to prevent similar clashes.

Myanmar's state religion is Buddhism, but the ruling junta claims to allow religious freedom and allows its many minority groups to practise their religion of choice, including Islam, Christianity, Brahmanism, ancestor worship and animism.

Rumors abounded in Yangon about who was behind the clashes. “The rumor behind the rumor is that regional military commanders have been organizing the attacks on Muslims to get people's minds off their economic hardships,” said a diplomat.

The ruling State Peace and Development Council had yet to issue an official statement on the clashes. Similar clashes, pitting Buddhists against Muslims, occurred in Sittwe, on Myanmar's western coast near the border with Bangladesh, in February.-dpa