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The Burmese security forces have detained 78 people in connection with the recent spate of Muslim-Buddhist clashes in Arakan’s Sandoway township, state media announced on Monday.
It follows news that the death toll from the violence, which erupted after an argument between a Buddhist trishaw driver and a Muslim shop owner on 29 September, has risen to seven.
The bodies of two Buddhist men were reportedly discovered at a local cemetery near Sandoway on Friday.
According to a report by the BBC, the two men were among a group of five Buddhists and a Christian pastor travelling by taxi through Thabyuchaing village when they unwittingly ran into an angry mob wielding knives and sticks. Four escaped, while the two others went missing.
The lives of four Muslim men and a 94-year-old woman had already been claimed in the unrest.
Authorities have detained several suspects, many with links to local nationalist groups and political parties, for their alleged role in the unrest. The chairman of the local Rakhine Nationalities Development Party was taken into custody immediately after the violence, while at least a dozen members of the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion have since been held for questioning.
The government confirmed on Monday that a total of 112 houses, three mosques and one petrol warehouse were burned to the ground in the riots, making nearly 500 people homeless. The report again sought to pin blame on instigators within “some organisations” intent on causing unrest.
The report echoes closely the words of President Thein Sein who recently blamed “outsiders” for orchestrating the violence to coincide with his first visit to Arakan state, which has been wracked by communal violence since last year.
The Burmese government has come under fire for a perceived failure to prevent the spread of religious violence, which has increasingly targeted the country’s Muslim minority.
But Monday’s report, published in the state-run New Light of Myanmar, insisted that anyone found guilty of “manipulating, committing and abetting” the violence would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
At least 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, have been uprooted and over 200 people have died since the first bout of ethno-religious clashes broke out last year.
The violence, which originally pitted the stateless Rohingya minority against Buddhists in northern Arakan state, has since spread across the country.
Many observers have blamed an extremist Buddhist movement known as “969”, which calls on Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses and avoid interfaith marriages. Until recently Thein Sein has been reluctant to criticise the group, even defending its chief proponent monk Wirathu as a “son of Buddha”.
Thein Sein has been credited for introducing sweeping democratic reforms in Burma since the nominal end of military rule in 2011. But rights groups say he must do more to protect religious and ethnic minorities, especially the Rohingya who are denied citizenship and heavily persecuted.