CAIRO - As a new bout of sectarian violence erupted against Burmese Muslims earlier this week, extremist Buddhist monks, who have been leading anti-Muslim campaign over the past years, are being accused of stoking violence in the volatile Asian country.
Buddhist monasteries have been distributing leaflets that were critical of Muslims on various things, and that has been going on for months," Burma Campaign UK's director Mark Farmaner told IBTimes UK on Friday, March 22
"Even before violence against Rohingyas, there was an organized anti-Muslim sentiment encouraged by some organizations.
Last Wednesday, 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.
So far, at least twenty people have been killed and dozens wounded since Wednesday.
Accusing Buddhist monks for sparking violence, Farmaner referred to controversial monk Wirathu who has led numerous vocal campaigns against Muslims in Burma, as a main cause of the eruption of sectarian violence in Meikhtila.
Wirathu played an active role in stirring tensions in a Rangoon suburb in February, by spreading unfounded rumors that a local school was being developed into a mosque, according to the Democratic voice of Burma.
The monk, who describes himself as 'the Burmese Bin Laden' said that his militancy "is vital to counter aggressive expansion by Muslims".
"Violence never stopped in the Rakhine state, it occurs every single day with harassment of local security forces," says Farmaner.
"People are worried that it could turn into large-scale violence again.
"As FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister] minister Alistair Burt said, we need to address the cause of hostility. Authorities talk of these clashes as isolated incidents, missing the big picture."
Trying to curb spreading sectarian bloodshed, Burmese President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law in the four districts, placing the military in charge of security.
The decision came as hundreds of Muslims fled their homes to find shelter from increasing Buddhist attacks in a test of Asia's newest democracy.
When I jumped off from the car, a group of people started attacking me," a Muslim evacuee who was attacked while being driven to the stadium told Reuters.
They struck me with swords and knives.
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.