SIT KWIN - As sectarian violence spread across Burma, Muslims are abandoning their homes, shops and mosques in different villages to avoid rising attacks by Burma's Buddhists.
We don't know where they are, Aung Ko Myint, 24, a taxi-driver in Sit Kwin, where on Friday, Buddhists ransacked a store owned by one of the town's last remaining Muslims, told Reuters.
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At least 42 people have been killed and several mosques were burnt in a week of sectarian violence in the central city of Meiktila.
Led by hardline Buddhists, the anti-Muslim violence has spread to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Burma, with the latest incidents only a two-hour drive from the commercial capital, Yangon.
The crowds are fired up by anti-Muslim rhetoric, spread by telephone and social media networks such as Facebook, from monks preaching about a so-called 969 movement.
The number is derived from Buddhism - the three numbers refer to various attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood - but it has come to represent a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism which urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim-run shops and services.
Increasing attacks forced the government later to impose emergency and curfews to halt the bloodshed.
The violence was triggered by an argument between a Buddhist couple and gold shop owners, escalating into deadly riots during which mosques were burned, houses razed and charred bodies left lying in the streets.
Troubles in Sit Kwin erupted four days ago when people riding 30 motorbikes drove through town urging villagers to expel Muslim residents, trashing a mosque and a row of Muslim shops and houses.
They came with anger that was born from rumors, said one man who declined to be identified.
Another 30-strong group was led by three monks on Friday against the city's mosque.
The abbot who led the protest, Khamainda, said he wanted revenge against Muslims for the destruction by the Taliban of Buddhist statues in Bamiyan province in Afghanistan in 2001.
Amid increasing violence, Muslims fear the tensions will explode.
I'm sure they will come back and destroy the mosque, Aung San Kyaw, 35, a Muslim villager in Letpadan, told Reuters.
We've never experienced anything like this.
Across the street, Hla Tan, a 67-year-old Buddhist, shares the fear.
We have lived peacefully for years. Nothing can happen between us unless outsiders come, he said.
But if they come, I know we can't stop them.
North of Sit Kwin is the farming town of Minhla, which endured about three hours of violence on both Wednesday and Thursday.
About 300 people, most from the nearby village of Ye Kyaw, gathered in the early afternoon on Wednesday.
The crowd swelled to about 800 as townsfolk joined, destroying three mosques and 17 shops and houses.
The mob carried sticks, metal pipes and hammers, said Hla Soe, 60, a Buddhist who runs an electrical repair shop in Minhla.
No one could stop them, he said.
The increasing attacks coms as the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma said on Thursday he had received reports of state involvement in the recent violence at Meikhtila.
Soldiers and police sometimes stood by while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well-organized ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs, said the rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana.
This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the state or implicit collusion and support for such actions.
The violence was a stark reminder of tension between Muslims and Buddhists in Burma that has been simmering since last year's sectarian violence in western Rakhine state, which displaced thousands of Muslims.
Burma's Muslims -- largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent -- account for an estimated four percent of the roughly 60 million population.
Muslims entered Burma en masse for the first time as indentured laborers from the Indian subcontinent during British colonial rule, which ended in 1948.
But despite their long history, they have never fully been integrated into the country.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net