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Six Muslims on trial in Burma could face the death penalty for the murder of a Buddhist monk during recent religious violence, an official said on Tuesday.
A verdict in their trial is expected on Friday, according to Ye Aung Myint, Chief Justice of Mandalay Region.
“If they’re found guilty of murder, they will be sentenced to death,” he told AFP by telephone.
At least 43 people were killed and thousands left homeless in March after a wave of violence apparently triggered by a quarrel in a gold shop in the central town of Meikhtila.
Soon after that argument a monk was killed, sparking unrest that spread across the region and mostly targeted Muslims.
Last month the gold shop owner and two other Muslims were jailed for 14 years for assaulting a Buddhist customer.
No Buddhists are known to have been sentenced in relation to the unrest.
Attacks against Muslims — who make up an estimated four percent of Burma’s population — have exposed deep fractures in the formerly junta-run country and cast a shadow over widely praised political reforms.
Some monks were involved in the clashes, while others are behind a nationalistic campaign calling for a boycott of Muslim-owned shops.
Ye Aung Myint said the six on trial are a 20-year-old man, the main suspect in the killing of the monk, and five alleged accomplices who have also been charged with murder.
A seventh suspect will face a children’s court while police are hunting for four others also believed to have been involved.
A renewed bout of anti-Muslim violence last week in Oakkan, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Rangoon, left one dead and saw mosques and homes destroyed, raising fresh alarm across the country.
Buddhist-Muslim violence in the western state of Arakan last year left around 200 people dead, mostly minority Muslim Rohingya.
President Thein Sein, in a speech to the nation, vowed on Monday to uphold the fundamental rights of Muslims in Arakan and said the country should aim for “peaceful coexistence”.