Anti-Muslim riots in Myanmar’s second largest city Mandalay have left two people dead and about a dozen wounded, and motor vehicles and shops ablaze, according to eyewitnesses Wednesday, in the latest communal violence to hit the predominantly Buddhist country.
The two men were killed when Buddhist mobs attacked minority Muslim homes in Chan Aye Thar Zan township late Wednesday, triggering clashes, the eyewitnesses said.
The dead were a Muslim and a Buddhist, they said.
Security has been stepped up in the city as police moved to contain the violence which erupted on Tuesday night.
Speaking to RFA's Myanmar Service, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi blamed the authorities for the worsening violence, saying prompt action should have been taken.
She cautioned the public against trusting unsubstantiated reports.
“These days, people are posting whatever they want online without taking any responsibility,” she said, apparently referring to an online allegation that sparked the violence.
“The authorities should properly handle those people who are spreading rumors. Without rule of law, more riots will come.”
On Tuesday night, five people were wounded when hundreds of Buddhists attacked a Muslim teashop in the same township following online allegations that the shop owner had raped a female Buddhist employee, Colonel Zaw Min Oo of the Mandalay Region Police Department told RFA.
Police were forced to fire warning shots in the air using rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, some of them armed with knives and sticks, he said.
A resident said two Muslims were injured by the rubber bullets, contradicting police claims that the shots were fired in the air.
Hundreds of police were deployed and roads blocked off near the shop after the report surfaced, but the Buddhist rioters—including dozens of nationalist monks—would not disperse, and began hurling stones at the building and a nearby mosque, leaving five people injured, Zaw Min Oo said.
“Around 2:00 a.m., some 40 monks and 450 lay people came to the corner of 23-24 and 83-84 streets with sticks and knives, and police went there and told them to disperse,” Zaw Min Oo said.
“We asked the mobs to scatter and they didn’t—that’s why we fired … rubber bullets into the air,” he said.
The five injured were a policeman, three Buddhists and one Muslim.
Zaw Min Oo said that prominent Buddhist monk Galoneni Sayadaw and several Muslim leaders had tried unsuccessfully to calm the crowd.
Nearly a dozen vehicles and several shops were destroyed in the riot, while the mosque was slightly damaged, he said.Anti-Muslim slogans
Violence flared again on Wednesday night after Buddhist mobs on about 40 motorcycles shouted anti-Muslim slogans in Chan Aye Thar township, triggering clashes with Muslims, a local official of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party told RFA.
“They threw bricks and stones at Muslim homes. There were clashes and some people were hospitalized and some motorbikes were destroyed,” said Myo Naing, executive committee secretary for the Mandalay region branch of the NLD.
About 20 motorcycles were destroyed in the new violence.
Myo Naing said that while investigating the area where the earlier violence had occurred, he received indications that some of the rioters were not residents of Mandalay.
A Muslim merchant, Maung Aye, who lives near the area where the violence occurred, told RFA that Muslims in the township were living in fear amid rumors that more Buddhist mobs were going to attack their homes.
Some of them gathered in mosques and recited prayers loudly only to be warned by patrolling policemen to keep their voices down, he said.
"We felt very insecure, chanting 'allah hu akbar' [God is great], but the patrolling police assured us that they would protect us," he said.
Sectarian violence in largely Buddhist Myanmar has left up to 280 people dead and another 140,000 homeless since 2012—mostly Muslims, according to rights groups.
While most of the violence has occurred in western Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, several incidents have occurred in the country’s central region, including a wave of arson attacks in Meikhtila city—about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Mandalay—which left 43 dead and 13,000 homeless in March 2013.
Muslims account for about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people.
On Wednesday, the NLD issued a statement urging the public to be wary of online rumors and calling on authorities to ensure the safety of innocent civilians caught up in the Mandalay riots.
The statement had warned that unrest could escalate after extremist monk Wirathu posted a link to the rape allegations report on his Facebook page.
Wirathu is the leader of a controversial nationwide campaign known as the “969 Movement” which claims Myanmar’s minority Muslims are threatening the Buddhist majority.
NLD spokesman Nyan Win told RFA that it was the duty of the authorities to look into the reports of rape and to brief the public on the progress of the investigation to avoid further unrest.
“We released this statement to warn the people to be careful,” he said.
“If there is an allegation, the authorities have to find out whether it is true or not. If it is correct, they must take action against the people who caused the riot. If not, they must inform the people that it is false.”
Nyan Win said that previous delays by the authorities in taking action against perpetrators of communal violence or the actions that cause them “get the people worried,” adding that he “believes such problems can be avoided.”
Reported by Khin Maung Soe, Set Paing Toe and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Soe and Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.