YANGON - The killings of scores of Muslims by Buddhist mobs in a recent bout of sectarian violence in central Burma are leaving the sizable minority in a state of fear and panic.
"At night-time nobody sleeps," Mohamed Irshad, a Muslim resident in Mingalar Taung Nyunt in the capital Yangon told Reuters while returning home from prayers at a mosque in the neighborhood.
"We have a guard, because some time they might come to attack."
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Another worshipper, Ruhla Min, said the imam warned his congregation not to be provoked into violence, but to be patient and stay calm.
"We prayed for peace," Ruhla Min said.
Scores of Muslims died in attacks by Buddhist mobs a recent wave of sectarian violence in central Burma last month.
The violence also saw arson attacks on dozens mosques and Islamic schools in several towns in central Burma.
Fears further gripped Burmese Muslims after a fire gutted an Islamic school on April 2, leaving 13 children dead.
Officials blamed faulty electrical equipment but many Muslims believe the fire was started deliberately.
Tension between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma has been simmering since last year's sectarian violence in western Rakhine state, which displaced thousands of Rohingya Muslims.
Many have heaped the blame on Buddhist monks for inciting violence against Muslims in the Asian country.
The latest round of violence was triggered after monks preached a so-called 960 movement, which represents a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism that urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim-run shops and services.
Kyi Lwin, who sells DVDs in central Yangon, said the movement was not anti-Muslim but meant to "build a fence" around Buddhism and discourage Buddhists from interacting with Muslims who may try to convert them.
He says the monks' speeches convinced him not to buy goods from Muslims or eat at their restaurants.
Ma Than Htwe said she had put a "969" sticker on her juice stall because some people thought she looked Muslim and that was losing her business.
Experts opine that the better economic situation of Muslims is feeding resentment among many Buddhists.
"If you talk to people about their economic life, it hasn't really changed, Aye Chan Naing, executive director of Democratic Voice of Burma, a media group, told Reuters.
They are still struggling to survive.
Muslims account for 5 percent of Burma's 60 million people but have a much greater representation than their numbers would suggest among the wealthier merchant class.
"Monks openly preach about taking businesses back into Buddhist hands. That appeals to a lot of people," said Chan Naing.
At least 110 people were killed in attacks on Rohingya Muslims in two bouts of violence in Rakhine State in the west in 2012, according to the government.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya, who are denied citizenship by Burma and are stateless, are now effectively segregated in camps.
Hostility against the Rohingyas is longstanding, especially in Rakhine State where an estimated 800,000 of them live.
In contrast, Yangon is a diverse city dotted with Buddhist pagodas, Islamic mosques, Christian churches and Hindu temples.
On one bustling street corner, Zaw Min, a Buddhist book vendor, sat next to his friend of 10 years, a Muslim who sells TV remote controls.
The men spend most of their days side by side on plastic stools, but their complicated friendship is emblematic of the uneasy relationship between Buddhists and Muslims.
Zaw Min said they often defend each other when a customer starts an argument.
But prominently displayed on his sign is a "969" sticker and he says he would not buy anything from a Muslim unless there was really no alternative.
When asked to comment, his Muslim friend simply shook his head without looking up.
Zaw Min said Buddhists should support Buddhist businesses that will use their money to make donations to monks and contribute to the construction of monasteries."If there is a fight between religions, I will fight for the Buddhist religion," he said.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net