A group of young armed Buddhist monks on Thursday held and threatened several journalists who witnessed them damaging a mosque and a house in Burma's riot-torn Meikhtila city, according to eyewitnesses.
The monks destroyed the memory cards seized from digital cameras of the journalists before letting them go.
The monks spotted the journalists, including a reporter from Radio Free Asia, taking photographs from a car and surrounded the vehicle, demanding that they give up their memory cards.
A monk held a knife to the throat of one reporter and pulled the journalists out of the car.
Some of the journalists said they were just doing their job and knelt before the monks in obeisance while others gave up their SD [secure digital] cards. As they let them go, the journalists ran into a monastery where they were given refuge for several hours before police arrived.
"We saw a group of monks destroying a mosque and a house near Thiri Street as we were in a car taking some pictures in town," Kyaw Zaw Win, the RFA reporter in the media group, said.
"The monks saw us. Suddenly, they surrounded our car and forced us out. They put a knife to a reporter’s throat," he said.
"We begged for our lives saying we didn't do anything wrong. They said that they would destroy our cameras. We refused to give them our cameras. Two reporters in our group gave their memory cards."
The monks smashed the memory cards into pieces.
The Associated Press said in a report that one monk, whose faced was covered, shoved a foot-long dagger at the neck of its photographer and demanded his camera. The photographer defused the situation by handing over his camera's memory card.
It said the group of nine journalists took refuge in a monastery and stayed there until a police unit was able to escort them to safety.
The communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Meikhtila is a top news story in the local and international media as well in social media. It is the worst violence since a wave of Buddhist-Muslim clashes in the western state of Rakhine last year left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced.
Burmese President Thein Sein on Friday declared a state of emergency in Meikhtila after police failed to contain three days of violence that have left more than 20 dead and dozens injured.
In the city Friday, angry mobs armed with knives and sticks roamed the streets, while houses and mosques burned and charred bodies lay in the streets. Thein Sein issued an order the same day, asking the military to rein in the violence.
A lawmaker and a resident told RFA that up to 26 people may have died in the riots.
Reported by Kyaw Zaw Win for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Win Naing and Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.