A second day of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state left at least one dead and five injured as clashes spread to new districts in the region’s largest city Wednesday, despite claims by officials that order had been restored.
In a post on his Facebook page on Wednesday, President Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut wrote that “one person was killed and five injured” in the violence in Lashio, located around 200 kilometers (120 miles) from both the Myanmar city of Mandalay and the Chinese border town of Muse.
He said security forces fired warning shots to disperse angry mobs, which had begun to riot at around 2:00 p.m.
“Five houses, three religious buildings, one cinema, 32 shops, 11 motorbikes and two cars” were destroyed in the clashes, the post said.
Details about those killed and injured in the second day of riots were not immediately clear, but according to a report by the Democratic Voice of Burma, at least two people beaten were freelance reporters who had memory cards stolen from their cameras.
The Irrawaddy online journal quoted a local Buddhist monk named Inkura as saying that Muslims fought with Buddhists near the town’s Muslim quarter on Wednesday afternoon, killing two of his friends and injuring eight.
The report could not be immediately confirmed.
Sources told RFA’s Myanmar Service that unrest had spread from Lashio’s No. 1 Quarter to quarters No. 2, No. 7 and No. 8 and that at least five houses in No. 7 Quarter and a motorbike shop in No. 8 Quarter had been destroyed by fire. Lashio, a town of around 130,000, contains a total of eight quarters.
Pitched battles began in the streets of Lashio on Tuesday after an ethnic Shan-Muslim man allegedly torched a Shan-Buddhist woman selling gasoline during a dispute. Officials said the suspect was in custody, prompting Buddhist mobs to demand authorities hand him over.
The government invoked Section 144 of the Constitution at around 9:00 p.m. Tuesday to provide the local authorities with emergency powers to bring the situation under control, and an officer from the Lashio Police Station told RFA that order had since been restored to the area.
“Right now things are OK, but I can’t say what will happen next,” the officer said early Wednesday afternoon.
“I am not sure about the number of security forces. I heard that there are five trucks full of security forces that were deployed in the city.”
But sources told RFA that bands of residents carrying bamboo poles and knives were seen walking freely around the city soon after, and that security forces could only look on as the city burned.
“It is like the security forces are simply watching. People who are carrying sticks and knives are traveling around the city freely,” Lashio resident Khun Sai said, adding that he had heard the woman gasoline seller from Tuesday’s quarrel had died in hospital Wednesday.
“Three houses are burning in the No. 7 Quarter and two houses are burning in No. 1 Quarter right now. There are not many people who are traveling in the city and no one is able to get to Muse.”
Khun Sai said that a Muslim had set a Buddhist family’s home alight at around 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, sparking the second day of unrest.
“It looks like today’s situation is getting worse. People are riding motorbikes, carrying sticks, knives, and axes. They look like they are looking to start trouble,” he said.
“We only have eight quarters in Lashio, but unrest is happening in Quarters No. 2, No. 7 and No. 8.”
Violence between Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and the country’s Muslim minority, which accounts for some 4 percent of the 60-million population, is threatening to derail reformist President Thein Sein’s plans for national reconciliation and democracy following nearly five decades of military rule.
June 2012 unrest in Rakhine state followed by clashes in October left at least 192 dead and 140,000 homeless—most of them Muslim Rohingya, who rights groups say bore the brunt of the violence.
In March, clashes stemming from a quarrel between a Buddhist couple and the Muslim owner of a goldsmith shop in central Myanmar’s Meikhtila spread to other towns in the region and raged for more than a week, leaving at least 44 dead and 12,000 displaced—most of them Muslims.
On May 1, clashes between Muslims and Buddhists occurred in Okkan township, located about 100 km (60 miles) north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.
Reported by Ei Ei Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.