CAIRO - Buddhist vigilantes in western Myanmar have attacked a bus and killed nine Muslims in one of the deadliest communal violence in the country.
"More than a hundred people beat and killed those people. The residents even torched the bus," a villager told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
A bus carrying Muslim passengers was attacked near Taunggoke town in the western state of Rakhine late Sunday, June 3.
The attack followed the killing of a Buddhist woman in the area.
Resident Kyaw Min told Reuters that Buddhists "were angered by the authorities' handling" of the attack on the woman, who people in the area said was raped and killed.
Just before Sunday's attack, leaflets bearing a photo of the woman and describing the rape were distributed in the area.
Several residents, who declined to be identified, said the Muslims on the bus were not from the area and were on a visit to Rakhine state.
They suggested those killed may not have any relations to the attack on the woman.
Police have launched an investigation into the attack.
"An investigation is underway but I can't give you any further details," said a police official who requested anonymity.
Rakhine is home to Myanmar's largest concentration of Muslims, but their presence is often resented by the Buddhist majority.
Muslims make up nearly five percent of Myanmar's more than 53 million population.
The largest group of Myanmar Muslims is the ethnic-Bengali minority, generally known as the Rohingyas, who mainly live in the western state of Rakhine.
Less numbered are the Indian-descended Muslims who live in Yangon and ethnic-Chinese Muslims, known as the Panthay.
Muslim groups have blamed the attack on the growing hostile campaigns against the sizable minority.
In a joint statement, eight overseas-based Rohingya rights groups said the attack on "Muslim pilgrims" came after months of anti-Rohingya propaganda stirred up by "extremists and xenophobes".
A spokesman for the coalition, Tun Khin, said he was concerned about the plight of Muslims in Myanmar.
They called on the government to treat Muslims fairly and tackle "Rakhine terrorism".
Rohingya Muslims have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
Every year, thousands of minority Muslim Rohingyas flee Myanmar in wooden boats, embarking on a hazardous journey to Thailand or Malaysia in search of a better life.
While some find work as illegal laborers, others are arrested, detained and "repatriated" to a military-ruled country that washed its hands of them decades ago.
Rohingyas say they are deprived of free movement, education and employment in their homeland.
They are not recognized as an ethnic minority by Myanmar and say they suffer human rights abuses at the hands of government officials.