A group of young men were arrested on Sunday after an alcohol-fuelled bender led to vandalism in a Mandalay township, as police forces step up their efforts to restrain communal unrest in the wake of last month’s anti-Muslim violence.
A police officer in Maha Aungmye township – more than 60 miles from Meikhtila – said a group of about a dozen youths were getting drunk and vandalising property, which included throwing rocks at houses and smashing up a vehicle.
According to a Maha Aungmye resident, residents in the neighbourhood apprehended the group as they were destroying property before they were arrested by police.
“They began vandalising homes around 11pm in the evening. According to their confession, they regrouped around midnight and threw rocks at houses between 74th and 75th streets before smashing up a car parked in front of a garment shop. They were arrested by local and police officials,” said the resident.
The suspects are now facing multiple charges, including obscenity, disturbing the peace, vandalism and unlawful assembly under article-144 of Burma’s penal code.
After a row in a local gold shop in Mandalay’s Meikhtila township on 20 March led to anti-Muslim rioting across central Burma, President Thein Sein announced on state television that he would not hesitate to use force to stop the spread of further unrest.
Following more than a week of rioting that affected at least 15 towns and villages in the country’s heartland, the government was blasted by international observers for their inability to quell the violence that was largely targeting Muslim communities.
In a press release published last week, UN envoy Tomas Quintana said there were “instances where the military, police and other civilian law enforcement forces have been standing by while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes”.
In a report published by Eleven Media Group last Friday, a Pegu division police commander said his officers would begin to decisively use force against potential agitators, while admitting that authorities had previously employed restraint as violence kicked off in their jurisdiction.
“[Buddhist] monks protecting [the rioters] made it difficult for the police force. The police arrived at the scene during the incident in Gyobingauk when we heard around 40 monks were vandalising Muslim houses,” said Pegu Division police commander Mya Win, according to the Eleven report.
“But the monks threatened the police and the fire brigade: ‘We will set the buildings on fire if you come close. So we had to withdraw.”
Following the president’s announcement last week, the police commander said his forces would crack down on “anyone carrying out acts of destruction”.
No major incidents of anti-Muslim violence have been reported since last week.