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Myanmar arrests five over mosque arson attack

NGOs had signed a joint statement calling for the government to hold perpetrators to account.

 
A policeman stands guard around a destroyed mosque in Thuye Tha Mein village in Bago province on June 24. (Photo by AFP)
Mandalay: 

Police in Myanmar have arrested five people in connection with a mosque burning in Kachin state after rights groups and the United Nations put pressure on the government to take action on anti-Muslim violence.

A week earlier, anti-Muslim mobs went on the rampage in a village in Bago Division in southern central Myanmar where they destroyed a mosque, a school and houses. Residents fled to a nearby town. No arrests were made, according to Muslim leaders.

However, on July 5, local police reportedly detained four men and a woman who were part of a gang who burned a Muslim prayer hall in a village in Hpakant Township, Kachin.

Nineteen non-governmental organizations signed a joint statement on the same day calling for the government to bring the perpetrators to justice.

"We expect the authorities to thoroughly and impartially investigate these crimes and ensure those responsible are held to account," said Khon Ja, an ethnic Kachin activist, in a statement. "The culture of impunity in Myanmar must come to an end."

The NGO coalition from Kachin, Yangon and Mandalay said in the July 5 statement that the people of Myanmar elected the National League for Democracy on the basis of its promise to "uphold the rule of law and human rights" for all.

Dashi La Seng, a regional MP for the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Hpakant, said that the situation has calmed down and confirmed that police have detained five people in connection with the mosque burning.

La Seng said the mob were antagonized because they believed the Islamic community built their prayer hall without proper permission. "Local authorities need to take action on those involved in the attack," he said. "And also on those who build prayer halls without permission so that we can prevent similar attacks in the future."

Anti-Muslim sentiment has fermented in the Buddhist-majority country in recent years. It poses a major hurdle for the NLD-led government as the country adapts from decades-long military rule to civilian-led government.

Al Haj Aye Lwin, a Muslim leader and co-founder of Religions for Peace, an interfaith group in Yangon, said that he doesn’t want to blame the new government because anti-Muslim violence is a legacy of military rule.

"Religious issues are very sensitive," he said. "The NLD must be careful because there are people who are attempting to unseat the new government by fueling anti-Muslim sentiment." He added that minority Muslims are a soft target for political agitators.

Myanmar has seen bouts of religious violence in recent years which has left scores dead. The worst violence hit Rakhine state in 2012.

An estimated 140,000 people remain in temporary camps for displaced people in Rakhine following the violence that flared up between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

The United Nations human rights envoy Yanghee Lee warned recently that "tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society."

"The Myanmar government must make it clear that anti-Muslim violence and vitriol will not be tolerated." Charles Santiago, chairman of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said in a July 4 statement. "Authorities have a responsibility to fully investigate these attacks and bring to justice those involved."

Source: UCAN

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