NAYPYIDAW - As attacks continue on their property and worship places, Muslim leaders in Burma are appealing to President Thein Sein to intervene to stop Buddhist attacks on the minority.
"Massacres and damages to religious buildings and property are due to the weakness of the responsible authorities to protect and take effective action, four Muslim groups said in a letter to the Burmese President cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday, March 28.
At least 40 people have been killed and several mosques were burnt in a week of sectarian violence in the central city of Meiktila.
The violence spread to several towns in central Burma, forcing the government to impose emergency and curfews to halt the bloodshed.
The violence was triggered by an argument between a Buddhist couple and gold shop owners, escalating into deadly riots during which mosques were burned, houses razed and charred bodies left lying in the streets.
"These violent attacks include crimes such as arson and massacres which deserve heavy penalties," the Muslim groups, including the Islamic Religious Affairs Council, said in their letter to the president.
"However, in this situation the authorities neglected to take swift and effective action against the perpetrators who recklessly committed crimes in front of them.
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 United Nations has also urged the Burmese government to investigate the anti-Muslim attacks.
I think the government need to investigate exactly what happened and why did it escalate so quickly and so fast, UN humanitarian coordinator Ashok Nigam told ABC's News Radio.
We are really concerned that it does not spread to more places.
This is indeed unusual but it is difficult to say exactly why it is being instigated, he said.
The UN envoy believes that Muslim homes and worship places had been targeted with "brutal efficiency".
"It seemed to have been done, in a sense, in almost a kind of brutal efficiency," Nambiar said as he visited shelter camps in Meiktila.
"Most of the people I spoke to tended to suggest the attacks were perpetrated by people they did not really recognize, and they may have been outsiders.
"But clearly they were targeted," he said.
The envoy blames the violence to incendiary propaganda", including inciteful articles by Buddhist elements.
"Clearly there has been a fair amount of incendiary propaganda which has been going on amongst the various communities, which heightened the feeling between them," Nambiar 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.