Myanmar assigns top cop, minister to probe Muslim deaths

YANGON Thu Jun 7, 2012 8:07am EDT

1 of 2. Injured people are treated in Sittwe General Hospital in Sittwe late June 3, 2012. Ten people were shot and wounded in Sittwe, the Rakhine capital when riot police tried to break up a protest, witnesses said.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's government has appointed a minister and senior police chief to head an investigation into the killing of 10 Muslims by a Buddhist mob that has stoked communal tensions in the country's Westernmost state.

The government has been quick to respond to Sunday's killings by a group of vigilantes who were angered by reports of a recent gang rape and murder of a local woman, allegedly by Muslims in predominantly Buddhist Rakhine state.

The new reformist, civilian-led administration says national reconciliation and unity is one of its top priorities and its success in striking ceasefires with all but one of the country's ethnic minority rebel groups may have played a part in the recent suspension of most Western sanctions.

It took the unusual step of announcing the probe on the front pages of several state-controlled newspapers on Thursday after a protest by Burmese Muslims in the biggest city, Yangon and anger on social media about the brutal killings and the media's reporting of the incident.

The 16-member committee, headed by the deputy interior minister and second-in-command of the police, was given until June 30 to determine the "cause and instigation of the incident" and pursue legal action.

The announcement made no mention of the killings or the rape, referring only to "organized lawless and anarchic acts" in Rakhine state.

Myanmar is predominately Buddhist and many members of the majority community resent minority groups, like those which descended from South Asia, most of whom are Muslim.

Demonstrators have demanded justice for the deaths of the Muslims, which came after leaflets were handed out urging retribution for the young woman's rape and murder.

Residents of Taunggoke, where the killings took place, said the dead had no connection to those blamed for the woman's murder.

Official media's reporting of the incident also caused a stir and the Information Ministry on Tuesday removed from its websites the term "Kalar", which is seen widely as a derogatory word to describe people of South Asian descent in Myanmar.

Opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi expressed condolences to Muslim leaders who visited her party's offices on Wednesday and said there was an urgent need for justice and proper law enforcement.

"If one problem is not solved, another bigger one will happen. It is the responsibility of the Police and the courts to take prompt actions against the offenders," Suu Kyi told reporters.

She echoed sentiments of some Muslims and activists that the killings could have been instigated with the intention of widening sectarian rifts.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Martin Petty and Ed Lane)

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