CAIRO - A recent wave of sectarian violence in Burma is seen as a result of hate campaigns championed by Buddhist monks against the Muslim community 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," Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, told International Business Times UK on Friday, March 22"Even before violence against Rohingyas, there was an organized anti-Muslim sentiment encouraged by some organizations.
At least 20 people were killed and several mosques were burnt earlier this week in the central town of Meiktila after an argument between a Buddhist couple and gold shop owners escalated into violence.
The violence spread with a mob descending on the area and destroyed several mosques and an Islamic school.
Farmaner cited the case of Buddhist monk Wirathu who has led numerous vocal campaigns against Burmese Muslims, a main cause of the eruption of sectarian violence in Meikhtila.
The Buddhist monk reportedly played an active role instirring tensions in a Rangoon suburb in February by spreading unfounded rumors that a local school was being developed into a mosque.
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," said 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."
The recent wave of sectarian violence prompted Burmese President Thein Sein to declare a state of emergency and imposed martial law, placing the military in charge of security.
The decision came as hundreds of Muslims fled their homes to find shelter from increasing Buddhist attacks.
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.
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.