Authorities on Thursday placed a suburb of Rangoon under curfew as part of a bid to stop the spread of communal violence that tore through a town and its outlying villages in central Burma earlier this week, according to a local police official.
The police source, who spoke to RFA’s Burmese Service on condition of anonymity, said that three people were arrested Thursday, including a woman believed to have sparked the clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in Oakkan—a town located about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Rangoon.
“Section 188 was invoked in Taikkyi, a suburb of Rangoon division, to prevent further unrest spreading from Oakkan,” the official said, referring to the curfew based on an article in the Burmese Penal Code, which carries severe punishment for those "endangering public safety."
He said that calm had been restored in Oakkan and that the three arrests brought to 21 the number of people to be charged over their alleged involvement in Monday’s violence, which was touched off after a Muslim woman bumped into a novice Buddhist monk, knocking over his alms bowl.
At least one of those arrested Thursday was Win Win Sein—the Muslim woman believed by authorities to have started the row in Oakkan.
Agence France-Presse quoted a local police official as saying that Win Win Sein and another unidentified woman would be charged with “religious defamation,” without providing further details. Burma’s constitution protects all faiths from perceived insults.
In an interview on state television, Shin Ponnya, the monk involved in the argument with Win Win Sein, said that he had been offered money to purchase a new alms bowl.
He said that authorities had arrived shortly after the disturbance, but that he had not been offered an apology until both parties were brought to the police station.
Monday’s clashes spread to villages on the outskirts of Oakkan, leaving one dead and 10 injured before order was restored by police firing warning shots over the heads of mobs. Two mosques were partially destroyed and dozens of homes and shops were burnt to the ground.
The police official told RFA that arrests were ongoing, adding that residents from the Sinphyukan and Bandula districts of Oakkan, and Ohnkone and Uyingyi villages on the outskirts of the town, had been linked to the violence and were being sought for questioning.
Democracy at risk
The Oakkan incident is just the latest in a string of clashes between Muslims and Buddhists that have threatened to derail national reconciliation, which reformist President Thein Sein sees as central to achieving the country’s goal of democracy.
Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government took power in 2011, freeing the country from decades of military misrule, but rolling back restrictions on rights such as the freedom of expression has allowed some long-hidden prejudices to resurface in Burmese society.
At least 43 people were reported dead and thousands, mostly Muslims, driven from their homes and businesses as violence spread from Meikhtila to other areas north of Rangoon in March.
And last year, clashes between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhines broke out twice in Burma's Rakhine state, leaving at least 180 dead and tens of thousands homeless—mostly Rohingyas.
This year’s violence has been linked to radical monks and has triggered international concern. Rights groups have accused the security forces of standing by while some of the attacks, which appeared to be well organized, took place.
Reported by Nay Myo Htun for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.