IN the first flare-up between the Buddhist and Muslim communities since the new government was sworn in, a mob of over 200 Buddhists stormed a village in central Burma (Myanmar), assaulting a Muslim man, pillaging his home, and destroying a mosque in the process.
Abdul Sharif, the man who was attacked, suffered injuries to his head and was sent to the hospital. He has since been released, but is now held under protective custody until authorities “determine it is safe for him to return home”.
According to local authorities, the incident started off as a disagreement between locals from the two communities, with Buddhist locals protesting against what they believed to be the building of a new Muslim school in Thayel Tha Mein village, Bago province.
However, members of the Muslim community said that the building was meant to be a storehouse.
Since the incident, which happened over the weekend, police forces were deployed to the village to help maintain peace in the area, though no arrests have been made yet.
“Police are investigating whether it [the new building] was a storehouse or a mosque or something else. The people should know that not every building which is being built by a Muslim is a mosque,” said Bago region Chief Minister U Win Thein, reported the Myanmar Times.
The village’s Muslim community is now living in fear of further violent repercussions.
Win Shwe, the secretary of the destroyed mosque, told AFP that Muslim residents feared for their safety and were planning to move to a nearby town until the tension cooled down.
“Our situation is not safe and now we are planning to leave the village … We still feel afraid,” he said.
Rising anti-Muslim sentiments in Burma came to a head last year, leading to the mass migration of thousands of its Muslim minority Rohingya refugees from the country in what many have dubbed “one of the worst humanitarian crises”.
The United Nations and various international human rights organizations have criticized the Burmese government for attempting to sweep the issue under the rug, like when its Information Ministry recently issued a directive banning the use of the terms “Rohingya” or “Bengali” among its officials or when State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to discuss the issue during official visits.