LASHIO, Myanmar: Security forces struggled to control Buddhist mobs who burned Muslim homes on Wednesday for a second day in the northern Myanmar city of Lashio in a dangerous widening of ultra-nationalist Buddhist violence.
Scores of young men and boys on motorbikes and on foot marauded through the city of 130,000 people, some singing nationalist songs, a day after a mosque and religious school were torched.
One person was killed and four were wounded in fighting, Ye Htut, spokesman for President Thein Sein, said in a Facebook post. Police fired guns to disperse the crowds, he said.
The violence in this city in a mountainous region near Myanmar’s northeastern border with China, about 700 km (430 miles) from the commercial capital Yangon, shows how far anti-Muslim anger is spreading in the Buddhist-dominated country.
The religious unrest erupted in western Rakhine State last year and spread into the central heartlands and areas near Yangon this year.
The unleashing of ethnic hatred since 49 years of military rule ended in March 2011 raises questions over whether the reformist Thein Sein has full control over security forces as Myanmar sees its most dramatic changes since a coup in 1962.
By early evening, Muslims shops and homes were still burning in one quarter of Lashio. There was no sign of Muslim residents.
“I don’t know where the Muslims are. They all ran away,” said Kyaw Soe Win, a Buddhist resident of the mixed neighbourhood where motorbikes and household possessions lay burning in the streets. Nearby, a man with a sword and a stick combed through the remains of a burned-out shop.
In other regions, such as Rakhine State where hundreds were killed last year, and in the central city of Meikhtila where at least 44 people died in March, there have been signs of ethnic cleansing, and of impunity for those inciting it.
Lashio is a test of whether the government can bring the widening anti-Muslim unrest under control.
As in Meikhtila, journalists were attacked. Two freelance reporters working for The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) were beaten as a mob looted a restaurant, the Norway-based broadcaster said. Memory cards from their cameras were taken.
“I got beat up and left with a bleeding head and my colleague also took a hit on the back. We were just watching the situation with cameras around our necks when a large group of people arrived on motorbikes and started attacking us,” one of the reporters was quoted by DVB as saying.