CAIRO - In an escalation of sectarian violence in Burma, scores of mosques and Muslim houses have been burnt in a new rampage through Muslim neighborhood by Buddhist mobs.
Most of the houses belong to Muslims, a ward official at Yamethin township near the capital Naypyidaw, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on condition of anonymity.This kind of case has never happened here.
More than 40 mosques and Muslim houses were burnt late Saturday, March 23, in Yamethin township in a new escalation of anti-Muslim violence in Burma.
The fire capped a three-day violence which flared-up on Wednesday in the town of Meiktila, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Naypyidaw, leaving at least 32 people dead and displacing about 9,000 more as neighborhoods were razed.
"Things happened so fast," said a woman in Yamethin, requesting anonymity.
"Some people were destroying the houses... we have no idea who. We are so sorry. We do not want things to happen like this."
The violence came hours after a United Nations envoy visited the rubble-strewn streets of Meiktila and met some of the displaced Muslims and Buddhists.
Vijay Nambiar, the UN special adviser on Burma, expressed sadness at the death and destruction but said residents want to rebuild their shattered lives.
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.
The new wave of violence between Buddhists and Muslims reflects decades of ethnic and religious divisions in the southern Asian country.
The mistrust is so high that every nationality is on alert with arms in their hands, Hkun Htun Oo, a former political prisoner who leads a political party from the Shan ethnic group, told The New York Times.
It's very unlikely that they will trust the Burmans quite easily again, he said of the ethnic minorities.
It won't be like before.
Burmans, make up two-thirds of the population while minorities, including Muslims, make on third.
Ethnic leaders say that the violence reflects the government failure to solve differences between communities through political dialogue.
The government is talking peace, but the army is fighting, Hkun Htun Oo said.
Since coming to power two years ago, President Thein Sein has said peace with minority groups was a priority, striking a number of peace agreements with minority groups.
But leaders of ethnic minorities say those deals, which have grabbed headlines, have given false hopes to the outside world about national reconciliation.
Ethnic leader also accuse the government of taking no concrete moves toward a more decentralized system that would allow minorities to manage their own affairs and teach and promote their own languages and culture.
Our expectation three years ago was that when democracy arrived, things would change for the better, said Zau Ba, the academic dean of the Hanson Baptist Bible College in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State.
We expected to be equally treated as citizens. And we expected to get some religious freedoms, he said.We expected too much.