YANGON (AP/AFP) — Nearly 100 police guarded a northern Myanmar village on Saturday after a Buddhist mob burned down a mosque, a police officer said, in the second attack of its kind in just over a week as anti-Muslim sentiment swells in the Southeast Asian nation.
The state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar said security forces in Hpakant in Kachin state were unable to control Friday’s attackers, who were armed with sticks, knives and other weapons.
It said the mosque’s leaders had failed to meet a June 30 deadline set by local authorities to tear down the structure to make way for construction of a bridge.
On June 23, a mob demolished a mosque and a Muslim cemetery in a village in Bago Region, about 60 kilometers northeast of Yangon, reportedly as a consequence of a personal dispute.
Tensions are also simmering in western Rakhine, a state scarred by deadly riots in 2012 that left communities almost completely divided along religious lines.
The region is home to the stateless Rohingya, a Muslim minority largely relegated to destitute displacement camps and subject to host of restrictions on their movements and access to basic services.
Suu Kyi, a veteran democracy activist who championed her country’s struggle against repressive military rulers, has drawn criticism from rights groups for not taking swifter moves to carve out a solution for the ethnic minority.
Her government recently ordered officials to refer to the group as “people who believe in Islam in Rakhine State” instead of Rohingya — a term whose use has set off protests by hardline Buddhists who insist the group are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Yet even the government’s broad phrase has failed to placate local Rakhine Buddhists, who demand the group be referred to only as “Bengalis” and say they are preparing to rally in protest at the order on Sunday.
After a 12-day visit to troubled Rakhine and other conflict sites in Myanmar, a UN rights investigator warned Friday that “tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society”.
Yanghee Lee urged the country’s new civilian government to make “ending institutionalized discrimination against the Muslim communities in Rakhine State… an urgent priority”.