Myanmar denies blame for riots
- Published: 30 Mar 2013 at 17.03
YANGON — Myanmar's government on Saturday rejected remarks by a UN human rights official suggesting that the authorities bear some blame for recent mob attacks by Buddhists on Muslims that killed dozens of people.
Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut said on his Facebook page on Saturday that he "strongly rejected" the comments by Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar.
Ye Htut, who is also the presidential spokesman, wrote that it was "saddening that [Ojea Quintana] made his comments based on hearsay without assessing the situation on the ground".
A police officer rides a motorbike past debris of buildings and a truck destroyed during ethnic unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in Meikhtila, 550 kilometres north of Yangon, last Monday. (AP Photo)He added that such remarks amounted to ignoring efforts by the government, security personnel, religious leaders and civil society organisations trying to restore order.
The state-run Kyemon newspaper said on Saturday that 43 people had died and 86 were injured since rioting first flared on March 20 in the central town of Meikhtila.
It said there were 163 incidents of violence in 15 townships in the country, with 1,355 buildings damaged or destroyed.
It reported that a few attacks against "religious buildings", shops and houses continued on Friday, a day after President Thein Sein declared that his government would use force if necessary to quell the rioting, which was sparked by a dispute between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers.
The report said soldiers and police had to shoot into the air to disperse the mobs Friday, though no casualties were reported.
Thein Sein warned in a televised address Thursday that efforts by "political opportunists" and "religious extremists" who tried to sow hatred would not be tolerated.
Ojea Quintana welcomed Thein Sein's public call for the violence to stop, but said authorities "need to do much more" to keep the violence from spreading and undermining the reform process.
"The government has simply not done enough to address the spread of discrimination and prejudice against Muslim communities," Ojea Quintana said in his statement.
He also called on the government to look into allegations that soldiers and police stood by "while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well-organized ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs".
Police in Meikhtila had been criticised for failing to act quickly and decisively against the rioting, in which mostly Muslim-owned houses, shops and mosques were burned down.
Occasional isolated violence involving majority Buddhists and minority Muslims has occurred in the country for decades, even under the authoritarian military governments that ruled Myanmar from 1962 to 2011.
But tensions have heightened since last year when hundreds of people were killed and more than 100,000 made homeless in violence in western Myanmar between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya