A U.N. envoy has raised concerns of state involvement in attacks on Muslims in riots gripping central Burma but President Thein Sein’s office has rejected the charges as baseless.
The charges came as terrified Muslims fled the riot-hit Bago division for Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, amid concerns over the prospect of fresh violence after clashes erupted nine days ago.
The U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights in Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana said in a statement Thursday that he had “received reports of state involvement in some of the acts of violence.”
President Thein Sein’s Buddhist-dominated government has “not done enough” to stem the violence and campaigns inciting hatred against Muslims, he said.
He cited reports that military and police “have been standing by while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well organized ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs.”
“This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the state or implicit collusion and support for such actions,” he said.
President Thein Sein has declared a state of emergency and sent troops to quell the violence, which has left at least 42 dead and 97 hospitalized, according to the latest police figures reported Thursday.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said in comments on his Facebook page that the government “absolutely denies” charges linking state actors to the violence.
“In fact, Mr. Quintana does now know the situation on the ground and made his comments based on secondhand hearsay, not facts,” he said.
“It is regretful that his remarks ignore the efforts made by security forces, civil society groups, and religious organizations [to contain the violence],” he said.
Seeking refuge in Rangoon mosque
Mobs have targeted mosques, homes, and shops in arson attacks across central Burma since the violence erupted in Mandalay division’s Meikhtila city on March 20 and quickly spread to the Bago region just north of Rangoon.
State media have reported 1, 277 homes have been destroyed in unrest that has made almost 13,000 people homeless.
Burma is a predominantly Buddhist country but about four percent of its 60 million people are Muslims. There are big Muslim communities in Rangoon, Mandalay, and towns across the impoverished country’s heartland.
On Friday, a group of 100 Muslims and six Buddhists fled to a mosque in downtown Rangoon’s Muslim-populated Mingalar Taung Nyunt township following attacks in Bago’s Minhla township, two to three hours from the city by car.
The group had been hiding in a Buddhist monastery in Minhla under the protection of monks there, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy parliamentarian Phyu Phyu Thin told RFA’s Burmese Service.
But after they felt they were no longer secure there, rescuers working with the help of local authorities brought them to the mosque in Rangoon, according to Phyu Phyu Thin.
“Currently, they are staying at a mosque,” she said. “We are now working to reunite them with their families if they have relatives in Rangoon.”
Dusk-to-dawn curfews are in effect in many areas of Bago and police have said 68 detainees were being charged for their role in the unrest.
In Padigon, a small town west of Bago city, at least five unidentified people were shot by the police and military when they were attacking Muslim-owned businesses and homes on Thursday, as Thein Sein authorized security forces to use deadly force to quell violence.
Thein Sein gave a televised address on Thursday warning “religious extremists” that they would not escape prosecution for participating in acts of violence.
The violence is the worst since clashes between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhines in western Burma left at least 180 dead and tens of thousands homeless last year.
The clashes in Meikhtila last week were sparked by an argument between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Win Naing. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.