Burmese authorities opened fire to contain communal riots in central Bago region, reports said Wednesday as curfews were ordered in three more townships after violence between Muslims and Buddhists erupted a week ago.
Security forces fired warning shots to stop mobs from destroying “religious buildings,” shops, and houses in the region, state television reported.
Dawn-to-dusk curfews and a ban on public gatherings have been imposed in two more townships in Bago—Nattalin and Zigon—following curfews that started Tuesday in Gyobingauk, Minhla, and Okpho, bringing the total number of townships under lockdown to nine.
The curfews were first ordered under government emergency procedures last Wednesday in Mandalay division’s Meikhtila city where Muslim-Buddhist riots broke out in the worst violence since communal riots last year in Western Rakhine state.
The riots had left at least 40 dead and tens of thousands displaced.
Clashes spread since Sunday to the Bago townships, which are all less than 120 miles (190 kilometers) from Burma’s biggest city Rangoon, a local representative for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party said.
“Since March 24, there have been several incidents of unrest in Oothegon, Okpho, and Gyobingauk every day.
There were several incidents of unrest last night in Zigon, Nattalin, and Paungde,” Thayarwady district NLD chairman Aung Myint told RFA’s Burmese Service.
Rights groups say Muslims bore the brunt of the violence.
“We are trying to create centers for Muslim victims and to help them get what they need,” AungMyint said.
The violence has drawn concern from the U.N., whose special envoy to Burma Viyay Nambiar said Tuesday that "incendiary propaganda" had been used to stir unrest between Buddhist and Muslim communities.
Nambiar, who recently visited Meikhtila, said Muslim homes had been targeted with "brutal efficiency” and that victims he spoke to suggested the attacks were perpetrated not by locals but by people outside the local areas.
Residents in Sit Kwin town in Minhla township in the Bago region said a mosque and some shops were destroyed by a group of people from outside the area on Wednesday afternoon, following a similar incident on Monday.
“They are holding sticks about three feet [nearly one meter] long. They are about 15 people and they look like they are from the countryside,” she told RFA’s Burmese Service from near the scene.
She said she didn’t see any local residents from Sit Kwin among the group.
Another resident, Kyaw Kyaw, said residents feared rumors that people from outside the area would come to start violence.
“There was a rumor that about 30 people will come into the town and burn all the shops. All shops are closed because of this rumor,” he said.
In Zigon, a mob of some 100 people destroyed several houses and a mosque early Wednesday morning, residents said.
“All local residents are very worried about the situation,” a resident said.
The latest clashes are some of the worst since violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhist Rakhines occurred twice last year in Rakhine state and left at least 180 dead and tens of thousands homeless.
The U.S. will be closely monitoring how Burmese authorities handle the Bago clashes, the State Department said Wednesday.
"We do remain deeply concerned about the communal unrest in central Burma," the Department’s acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
"We are urging Burmese authorities... to restore order and maintain peace in a manner that respects human rights and due processes of law.”
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.