Muslim Quarter Attacked in Rangoon

2013-02-21
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Muslims walk towards a mosque for their evening prayers in downtown Rangoon, Feb. 16, 2012.
AFP

Police have detained several people after an angry Buddhist mob attacked a Muslim school and shops in a suburb outside Rangoon this week, according to sources and reports.  

The attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday were triggered by reports that the Muslim school in Manpye quarter in Thaketa township was being extended to a prayer house despite objections from the predominantly Buddhist residents.

Police moved in and detained several attackers, sources told RFA's Burmese Service. The Rangoon region's chief minister, Myint Swe, visited the affected area on Wednesday to look into the issue, the sources said.

The mob comprising about 300 people went on a rampage attacking the school and several shops and hurling bricks and abuse on the Muslim community, sparking fears among some families who have fled the area, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a nonprofit Burmese media group.

A spokesperson for the Burmese Islamic Religious Affairs Council told DVB that the Muslim school had recently sought approval to renovate its roof, but because the structure had exceeded its permitted height by 5 feet (1.5 meters), the municipal authority subsequently withdrew its authorization.

Rumors then quickly circulated that the school was being built into a mosque, the report said.

The spokesman said both residents and "outsiders" were likely involved in the religious violence, which is rare in the former Burmese capital.

Burma came under international attention last year after bloody violence between ethnic Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in western Rakhine state led to nearly 200 deaths and forced thousands of Rohingyas out of their homes.

Most of them remain homeless, living in makeshift camps, many of which lack access to adequate health care, clean water, and basic provisions, according to relief officials.

The Rohingya have long been viewed by Burmese authorities and by other Burmese as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many have lived in Burma for generations.

Reformist Burmese President Thein Sein, ahead of a historic visit to the country by U.S. President Barack Obama last year, had assured the international community that his government would consider resolving contentious rights issues facing the Rohingya, including the possibility of providing them citizenship.

Reported by RFA's Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.