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A curfew has been issued in Arakan state’s Sandoway (Thandwe) after a Buddhist mob set fire to Muslim homes on Sunday evening, following the alleged sexual assault of a woman by two men who were rumoured to be Muslim.
On Sunday afternoon, the suspects and victim were being questioned at Sandoway’s police station when the mob assembled and called for the men to be handed over to the crowd. In response, the town’s officials issued a decree banning the gathering of more than five people under article-188 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Shortly after the order was announced, the mob set fire to several Muslim homes in the town. Officials then installed a curfew between 5pm and 5am under article-144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the attack’s wake.
Officials have yet to confirm the suspects’ religion; however, a government spokesperson hinted that rumours, not facts, led to the crowds’ assumption that the men were Muslims.
“Rumours of the woman being assaulted by an individual from another religion were spread in the town, leading to a mob of around 50 people gathering in front of the police station around 5pm,” wrote Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut in a Facebook post published on Sunday evening.
“The police explained to the crowd that the culprits were still being investigated and urged them to disperse.”
According to Sandoway Township Administrator Kyaw Soe Lwin, one house was destroyed, while four other homes were set alight in the melee.
While the two suspects who were allegedly involved in the assault were still in custody, none of the rioters behind Sunday’s violence had been detained.
“We cannot take action against the [rioters] unless someone files a report, and there was no witness,” said Kyaw Soe Lwin. “Even if there was, we cannot arrest people without solid information.”
Arakan state spokesperson Win Myaing said acts of mob violence were unlawful.
“It is necessary to follow procedures in accordance with the law when a crime takes place and give it some time,” said Win Myaing.“It is inappropriate to make demands and act unlawfully with a mob.”
A Muslim resident in Sandoway said she felt helpless, as the police failed to prevent the mob from destroying homes yesterday.
“We are afraid to file reports as the police were blatantly ignoring the attacks – they were patrolling in the town as the mob was burning homes – they didn’t do anything to stop them,” said the Muslim resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
However, National League for Democracy’s Sandoway township chairman Win Naing said he believed the incident was orchestrated.
“We heard rumours since about six days ago that there was going to be a sexual assault against a [Buddhist woman] by one or two men from another religion – and then it actually happened,” said Win Naing.
“Given that the riot spread immediately, it must have been orchestrated.”
In May 2012, the alleged rape and murder of an Arakanese woman by three Muslim men led to a revenge attack targeting 10 Islamic pilgrims, who were beaten to death by a Buddhist mob in Arakan state’s Taunggup.
Following the massacre, rioting kicked off days later in Arakan state pitting Buddhist Arakanese against Muslim Rohingya. Another round of rioting erupted the following October, which has inflamed sectarian tensions across the country.
Following multiple episodes of anti-Muslim rioting that has spread from Burma’s southwest coast to the Shan plateau, hundreds of people have been killed and more than 150,000 people have been displaced across the country.