Curfew imposed after deadly clashes between Buddhists, Muslims in Myanmar

Story highlights

  • Two people are dead after violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar
  • Radical Buddhist monks appeared to play a role in inciting mobs, says rights researcher
  • Myanmar has had numerous outbursts of anti-Muslim violence in recent years
  • The violence threatens the country's fledgling transition from decades of military rule
Authorities have imposed a curfew in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, following nights of deadly communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims.
Two people have been killed and 14 injured since rioting erupted Tuesday, Col. Aung Kyaw Moe, Mandalay Region's Border Affairs and Security Minister, told CNN Friday.
The rioting began when a mob attacked a tea shop owned by a Muslim man accused of raping a Buddhist woman, and continued the following night.
Citing officials, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that eight separate conflicts took place in the region on Tuesday and Wednesday night, involving gangs of as many as 450 people, some armed with weapons including swords, firearms, knives, rods and "incendiary materials."
One of the victims was Muslim and one Buddhist, officials said. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, with Muslims estimated to account for about 5% of the population.
Myanmar has witnessed several outbreaks of violence targeting Muslims in recent years as the country emerges from decades of authoritarian military rule, threatening the country's fragile political reforms.
Extremist Buddhist nationalist elements, such as the 969 Movement, have been accused of fanning the flames of hatred, and pushing for discriminatory laws, including a proposed ban on interfaith marriage.
Radical Buddhist monks, including the 969 Movement's spiritual leader, Ashin Wirathu, appeared to have played "a pivotal role" in contributing to the latest unrest, said David Mathieson, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Anger against the Muslim tea shop owner, a Muslim, had escalated after Wirathu had circulated a report of the alleged rape on his Facebook page, and called for a harsh government response to "jihadist Muslims."
There had also been a significant monk presence among the mob, said Mathieson.
"The area where this happened is 5-10 minute drive from where Wirathu's monastery is," he said. "This really is his heartland."
Matthew Smith, executive director of rights group Fortify Rights, said extremists were "using social media as a platform to spread hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric and in some cases to incite violence."
Myanmar's government had temporarily suspended Facebook in an attempt to tamp down the unrest, he said.
"It's a tinderbox that could erupt to unprecedented levels of violence," he said.