Myanmar police on Monday detained two more suspects for their involvement in a confrontation between Buddhists and Muslims last week in a Yangon neighborhood where monks had claimed that ethnic Rohingya Muslims were hiding “illegally.”
Meanwhile, police continue to search for three others believed to be involved in the melee that left two people injured.
Police apprehended Tin Lin Htike and Tin Htay Aung who were involved in the incident in Mingala Taungnyunt township in the east-central part of the city, when the two men went to the Eastern Yangon Police Station, Tin Lin Htike wrote on his Facebook page.
On Monday, they received a period of remand at Mingala Taungnyunt Township Court along with notice that their trials would be held on May 22.
The pair will be tried along with others arrested last week, including Tin Htut Zaw and Ma Aung, both of whom were apprehended on May 11.
On that day, Myanmar police apprehended and charged two monks and five Buddhist nationalists for their involvement in the confrontation, during which police secured the neighborhood and fired warning shots in the air to disperse a crowd that had gathered after an altercation between monks and Muslim residents.
They face charges of incitement to commit violence under section 505(c) of the country’s Penal Code, which carries a penalty of up to two years in prison and a fine.
Monks from the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Union, also known at Ma Ba Tha, had received information that some Rohingya were hiding in a building in the township, and they alerted police and immigration officials who searched the premises on May 9.
Myanmar’s Buddhist majority views the Rohingya, a stateless group of 1.1 million who live mainly in the country’s western Rakhine state, as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and government policy has denied them citizenship and access to other basic rights for decades.
After a search, police determined that the occupants were there legally and took no further action against them.
Different witness accounts identified either Muslims who live in the area or a group of nationalist outsiders with weapons for starting the melee as the monks left the building.
Two men were injured in the scuffle during which local police fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd.
Police are still looking for two other monks—Thuseitta from the Patriotic Young Monks Union who had given an eyewitness account to RFA’s Myanmar Service, and Pyanyar Wuntha—and a third alleged participant named Myat Phone Mo.
Threat to destroy neighborhood
In the meantime, authorities have increased security in Mingala Taungnyunt amid a threat circulating on social media that said the area would be attacked and destroyed on Monday.
Local authorities, lawmakers, police officers, members of the pro-democracy 88 Generation Students Group (now known as the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Group), and residents are now working together to prevent further unrest in the area.
Nilar Thein, a democracy activist and political prisoner who was imprisoned for participating in the pro-democracy protests of 1988, told RFA that the post about the razing of the township on May 15 was made on Facebook under the name Wirathu with a photo of an unidentified monk.
Wirathu is a prominent monk in the Ma Ba Tha movement, who is known for his fiery anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“We came here as a democratic force to solve together any problems we have in this area,” she said.
Former member of parliament Phyu Phyu Thin, who lives in Mingala Taungnyunt township, told RFA that those who tried to foment unrest on May 9 posted the threat on social media because local residents tried to protect their neighborhood.
“We heard that they [those who initiated the confrontation] got angry after their unsuccessful effort,” she said. “Afterwards a Facebook post said that they would destroy Mingala Taungnyunt township on May 15.”
“We don’t know whether this account is real or not,” she said of Wirathu’s Facebook page. “All forces [lawmakers, police, and local residents] are now working together to prevent unrest in the neighborhood.”
Tin Aye, the administrator of Southern Kandawlay ward in Mingala Taungnyunt township, said officials have warned residents not to possess any weapons such as wooden sticks or knives to protect themselves from any attacks because authorities can take action against them under the country’s weapons act.
“We told them we are here to protect them, and they just need to check that there are no strangers in the township,” he said.
Reported by Thiha Htun, Htet Arkar and Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.