KYAW BOI LAY, Myanmar (Reuters) - Hundreds of police and troops restored order in central Myanmar on Wednesday after a fresh outbreak of sectarian violence in which one man was killed after Buddhist mobs trashed property owned by Muslims following a minor street incident.
In all, 10 people were injured in Oakkan and nearby villages, just 60 miles north of the commercial capital Yangon, and one died of a head wound, the deputy police commissioner of Yangon, Thet Lwin, told Reuters.
Police arrested 18 people who had been charged with theft, assault and arson as well as gathering in a mob, he said.
“They are safe now and can go back to their homes,” he said of Muslims who had been forced to flee into surrounding woods to escape the mobs.
The latest wave of sectarian violence erupted in March in the central town of Meikhtila, causing 44 deaths and displacing an estimated 13,000 people, most Of them Muslims.
A Reuters investigation found that radical Buddhist monks had been actively involved in the violence and in spreading anti-Muslim material around the country before and after.
Tension has remained high, and state television said the latest unrest was started when an 11-year old novice monk was hit by a Muslim woman while collecting alms in Oakkan. Other reports said the two had bumped into each other in the street.
“The crowd of Buddhists hurled stones at a mosque damaging six windows and electricity meter boxes. The crowd destroyed the facades of 25 shops,” the MRTV television station said in a bulletin late on Tuesday.
Koko Naing, 28, a Muslim resident of nearby Kyaw Boi Lay whose home had been destroyed, told Reuters that at least three different mobs had attacked his village from 3:30 p.m. (0900 GMT) on Tuesday and on into the night.
He said things had been fine in the village until the trouble in Meikhtila but soured quickly afterwards, with monks making anti-Muslim speeches in monasteries.
“Since the violence in Meikhtila, we’ve been living in fear. We’ve heard Buddhists will attack again so we are afraid,” he said.
“I KNEW THEIR FACES”
Reuters reporters saw stickers for a campaign known as the “969” movement of nationalist monks on houses on the road into the village.
Despite the presence of police in the village, about 100 Muslims had chosen to stay camped out in the woods with what belongings they had managed to salvage.
Koko Naing said some of the people who had destroyed their homes were from neighboring villages. “I saw them and I knew their faces.”
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said in a statement posted on his Facebook page that mobs had tried to set houses on fire in the Oakkan area and 77 were damaged.
Army battalions based in the area were helping restore order, he said, and a senior police official said about 400 police officers were patrolling.
Sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Muslims, who make up about 5 percent of Myanmar’s population, have erupted on several occasions since a quasi-civilian government took power in March 2011 after five decades of brutal military dictatorship.
Seven Muslim men are on trial in Meikhtila charged with murdering a monk, seen as the spark that set off the riots there in March. Dozens of Buddhists are to face trial later.
The most serious attacks took place in Rakhine State in the west in June and October last year, when Buddhists fought against Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship by Myanmar and seen by many in the country as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. At least 192 people were killed.
A Reuters investigation found that the wave of attacks in October had been organized, led by Rakhine nationalists tied to a powerful political party in the state and incited by Buddhist monks, abetted at times by local security forces.
Additional reporting Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel