MEIKTILA, Burma - At least ten people were killed and several mosques have been destroyed in a new bout of sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in central Burma.
"About three mosques were destroyed," a local police officer told Agence France-Presse (AFP) by telephone on Thursday, March 21.
An argument between a Buddhist couple and gold shop owners degenerated into deadly riots in the central town of Meiktila.
An initial report on the police Facebook page late on Wednesday said anger spread after one man was injured during the row in the gold shop.
A mob then descended on the area and destroyed several mosques and an Islamic school in the area.
Police imposed a curfew overnight to control the situation after ten people were killed in the violence.
We can't say the situation is under control, Win Htein, a member of the opposition National League for Democracy party, told Reuters.
The police force is not strong enough to control the situation.
Tension between Muslims and Buddhists in Burma 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.
The riots raise concerns that sectarian violence between Muslims and Buddhists could spread across the country.
"The situation is unpredictable," Hein Thu Aung, a 29-year-old local man, told AFP.
"I can't guess what will happen next. The violence could get worse -- everyone here is aggressive."
Win Htein, a member of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in the town, is also pessimistic.
"What is happening now is religious tension. We are trying to calm the situation down," he said, adding that the situation was "tense".
"I haven't seen this kind of conflict in Meiktila in my life."
Senior government officials said they were monitoring the situation in Meikhtila while roads linking it to other major cities in the region have been temporarily closed.
"It is very important to understand that there are those who want to create racial and sectarian violence out of ordinary crimes," Min Ko Naing, of the pro-democracy 88 Generation Peace and Open Society group, said.
Burma is about 90 percent Buddhist and the majority are ethnically Burman, but the remaining people are a diverse group of over 100 ethnic and religious minorities.Treating Buddhism as the state de facto religion, the Buddhist Burman majority was singled out as the trustworthy pillar of national identity.