Four people were killed Friday following sectarian clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in western Burmaas police opened fire and ordered a curfew to quell growing tensions, according to residents.
The violence occurred in Rakhine state’s Maungdaw town, and is believed to have been triggered by people seeking revenge for an attack by Buddhist vigilantes on Sunday that left 10 Muslim bus passengers dead.
Local sources said the Muslim attackers torched Buddhist homes and stabbed inhabitants as they fled.
“In Wet Thet Kon there are three or four houses on fire and there are also four or five houses [burning] in another quarter, here and there,” one resident of Maungdaw told RFA’s Burmese service during the melee.
“It is a mess. Just now while I am talking, security forces are driving by,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
And a resident of Rakhine state’s capital city of Sittwe, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south along the Bay of Bengal, said he had also heard of the violence from a friend in the area.
“We heard there were five houses owned by members of the [Buddhist] Rakhine ethnic group burned in Maungdaw,” the source said, who also spoke with RFA anonymously.
“We also heard from a physician that a couple of people were stabbed, but members of the security forces [who broke up the violence] were not injured. I got a call from Maungdaw just now."
Police were reported deployed to more than a dozen Buddhist villages as houses were set alight.
The Sittwe resident said that the religious clashes had spread to the capital where Muslims rained stones on a Buddhist funeral procession on Friday morning.
“It is not calm in Sittwe either. Some people threw stones at a funeral convoy, leaving a few injured who are now at the hospital. The funeral envoy had to pass a Muslim village to get to the cemetery,” he said.
“We don't know what is going to happen this afternoon.”
Agence France Presse quoted an anonymous official who confirmed the number of dead in the Maungdaw incident.
"They were attacked with knives. A 65-year-old man was killed on the spot. The other three died in hospital as they were seriously injured. Those who were killed are Buddhists," the official said.
Another official told AFP that police officers had been deployed in Maungdaw and had “opened fire” after around 300 people returning from mosques threw stones at official buildings and local businesses, but added that there had been no casualties as a result of the shooting.
State television late Friday announced a night-time curfew in areas of Rakhine state that had been affected by religious violence.
Rakhine state is home to the largest concentration of Muslims in Burma and their presence is believed to be resented by the Buddhist majority.
Clashes in the state began on Sunday when Buddhist vigilantes attacked a bus and killed 10 Muslims in the worst example of communal violence in Burma since President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government took power in March last year and set the country on a path toward reform.
The group believed the Muslims had been responsible for raping and killing a Buddhist woman a week earlier and sought retribution when it set upon the bus on its route near Taunggoke town.
Just before Sunday's attack, leaflets bearing a photo of the woman and describing the rape were distributed in the area.
Several residents said the Muslims on the bus were not from the area and had visited Rakhine state as part of a pilgrimage. The sources, who asked to remain anonymous, suggested that those killed may not have been the perpetrators of the reported rape and murder.
On Thursday, Burma’s government appointed a minister and senior police chief to head an investigation into the incident, announcing the order on the front pages of several state-controlled newspapers after Muslims in Rangoon held protests and netizens expressed their rage online over the killings.
The country’s deputy interior minister and second-in-command of the police will lead a 16-member committee tasked with determining the cause of the incident and how to pursue legal action. The team will have until June 30 to complete its duty.
Opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday met with Muslim leaders at the office of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to express her condolences, stressing a need for the country’s courts and police to take control of the situation.
Buddhists make up some 89 percent of the population of Burma, with Muslims officially representing four percent.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.