Conflict prevention teams have been formed in each ward in Lashio to ensure there are no further outbreaks of violence, following rioting last week that left one dead and saw dozens of buildings torched.
Minister for Religious Affairs U San Sint said at a meeting with religious leaders of different faiths in Pyin Oo Lwin on May 31 that the government had brought the violence under control but was concerned about it recurring. He said at least 50 people have been detained over their role in the rioting, which also left at least four people injured.
U San Sint said the conflict prevention teams include religious leaders and government officials, such as firefighters and policemen.
He said 1369 people have taken refuge in Mann Su Monastery and the government is planning to open a camp for them in the township football stadium.
“We will try our best to resettle people in their original places as soon as possible,” U San Sint said.
The outbreak of communal unrest in the northern Shan State town on May 28 again exposed the inability of local security forces – including police – to contain fast-moving conflict.
The violence broke out after a Muslim man allegedly doused a Buddhist woman in fuel and set her alight.
Within hours a mosque, an Islamic school and hundreds of houses and businesses owned by Muslims had been torched. The government said five houses, three religious buildings, four warehouses, one cinema, 34 shops, two cars and 11 motorbikes were burned in the violence.
Ko Saung Oo Latt, a 30-year-old Lashio resident, said the violence had shocked many in the town. “We are surprised at the violence because we are not interested in religious issues. Mostly Lashio people are only interested in business. I really wonder how this violence broke out,” he said.
The government imposed martial law in Lashio at 9pm on May 29 under a section 144 order, laying down a curfew in the township from 7pm to 5am. By that stage the town had been flooded with troops.
But only areas that had already been targeted by rioters were under heavy security, with many parts of the town left unguarded, residents said.
A Lashio resident who did not want to be named said groups of people were riding around the town on motorcycles “with sticks and knives and setting fire to buildings”.
“Just a few minutes ago, a group of 200 people destroyed the Thida Aye Cinema,” the resident said at 3pm on May 29. “We are seeing groups of three or four men carrying weapons all over the place – the only areas that are safe are the mosques and places that have been torched because there are security forces there.”
But U San Sint told The Myanmar Times on May 29 that the government had the situation under control.
“There will not be any further fatalities because security is tight,” he said. “This problem is caused by short-tempered youths … and was started when a Buddhist woman was burned by a Muslim. But I don’t think this incident was a religious incitement.”
Hundreds of people sought refuge in Mann Su Monastery. One of these people, Daw Zai Nat Thi, from ward No 7, told The Myanmar Times on May 30 that her neighbour had been killed.
“His name is U Win Myint. The mob burned his car and hacked him with knives. His wife managed to escape,” she said.
“We feel safe now at this monastery. I am really thankful to Mann Su Sayadaw for protecting us from the mob and providing us with food and water,” she said.
Mann Su Sayadaw said he had opened the relief camp at the request of U San Sint. “We have already received more than 600 refugees, mostly Muslims, and there is also another refugee camp that has almost 30 Burmese refugees,” he said on May 30.
The outbreak of communal violence occurred after 48-year-old Ko Nay Win allegedly doused Ma Aye Aye Win, 29, in fuel and set her alight.
“Ko Nay Win arrived in Lashio from Kengtung on May 26. He had a conversation with fuel sellers on the morning of May 28 and in the evening he had an argument with Ma Aye Aye Win when she was selling petrol,” said U Kyaw Khine Oo, Lashio district administrator.
U Kyaw Khine Oo said Ko Nay Win has a history of alcohol abuse and received medical treatment for two months in 2012 to treat his alcoholism. He has been detained and charged over the incident, the Ministry of Information said.
Translated by Zar Zar Soe