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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Violence in Burmese City Takes Deadly Toll

Violence in Burmese City Takes Deadly Toll

Police arrive in Mingalar-zayyon Ward, Meikhtila, as houses in the city burn on March 21, 2013.
At least 10 people have been killed and dozens injured after two days of sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in central Burma's Meikhtila city, police sources and officials said Thursday.

Scores of shops and houses were also burned down or destroyed in the riots, some of the worst since ethnic clashes last year between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhist Rakhines in western Burma's Rakhine state left at least 180 dead and tens of thousands homeless.

The clashes were triggered by a quarrel on Wednesday morning between a Buddhist couple and the Muslim owner of a goldsmith's shop in the city's main bazaar and quickly spread through various parts of Meikhtila, located on the banks of a lake in Mandalay division, the sources said.

Police said at least one mosque and an Islamic school were destroyed.

"No less that 10 people have died as far as we know," one official source told RFA's Burmese Service.

Other sources said up to 14 may have been killed in the two days of rioting involving hundreds of city residents.

Win Htein, an MP for Meikhtila township with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), said a dozen people may have been killed.

"I saw houses burning near the main bus terminal," he told .

A senior officer at the Meikhtila District Police Office said the bodies of 14 people were found “on the streets” Thursday morning, the Irrawaddy online journal reported.

Under control

Tun Naing, the deputy chief police officer of Mandalay division, said the situation had been brought under control by Thursday night local time after two days of violence.

"All burnings and clashes have been brought under control now," he told

He said that a panel of officials led by Ye Myint, the chief minister of Mandalay division, was at the scene Thursday to get a full picture of the situation.

President Thein Sein has ordered security reinforcement to the area after some groups claimed that police did not take prompt action to nip the violence at the start.

“The situation is still tense there and we’ve deployed between 600 and 700 police officers,” Office of the President spokesperson Ye Htut told the Irrawaddy journal.

The United States has expressed concern over the clashes, saying it was "monitoring events closely."

"I am deeply concerned about reports of violence and widespread property damage in Meikhtila Township, Mandalay Region," Derek Mitchell, the U.S. envoy in Burma, said in a statement posted at the embassy website.

Leading monks from Mandalay and Sagaing divisions, as well as local non-governmental groups from Rangoon, had also gone to the area to help ease tensions.

Initial argument

The violence stemmed from a quarrel between the owner of the goldsmith shop and a villager and his wife who had gone there to sell a gold hair pin, a police source said.

An argument broke out when the item was purportedly damaged as it was being authenticated by the goldsmith. Tension grew as the two sides began to haggle over the price to be offered for the item and people in the shop beat the customers, causing an uproar in the bazaar, the source said.