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A Supreme Court lawyer in Mandalay has criticised the divisional government’s press statements relating to communal mob violence in the city this week, saying such a failure could stoke the simmering tensions in the region.
Thein Than Oo warned the government not to “manipulate” information.
On Thursday, a press release by the local assembly stated that “Muslim nationals” had beaten up “Burmans”, while noting that mob riots were conducted by both Muslims and Burmans.
Burman, or bamar, is the majority ethnicity in the country, and Burmans are invariably Buddhist.
Supreme Court lawyer Thein Than Oo said it was unwise of the divisional government to single out Muslims, pointing out that it could “stoke simmering tensions” between the two communities.
“There is no Muslim nationality – it is simply the word used for people who practice Islam,” he said.
“Right now, the situation is extremely fragile, so the government should be careful with the usage of such words,” the lawyer said. “It will incite hatred between different ethnicities and different faiths.”
He added that Speaker of the Union Parliament Shwe Mann has warned those in authority not to manipulate the situation during these incidents.
Riots broke out on Tuesday night in Mandalay’s Chan Aye Tharzan Township, a neighbourhood with a vibrant Muslim community, after rumours circulated that the Muslim owners of a local teashop had raped a Buddhist maid.
Hundreds of riot police officers were deployed to quell the riot, but two men were killed in separate mobs attacks – one Buddhist, one Muslim. On Wednesday, the divisional government imposed a dusk-to-dawn dawn curfew in six townships amid threats of further violence.
Meanwhile, London-based Burmese Muslim Association released a statement on Friday strongly condemning the violence, but putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the government and local police.
“The violence that has occurred is not simply a result of sectarian conflicts. It is without doubt a well-planned operation, carried out by a group of well-trained thugs,” it said.
“Since 1 July 2014, a van and a group of about 30 motorbikes, carrying mobs armed with machetes and lethal weapons, were roaming around the city of Mandalay and targeting various Muslims, shops and businesses owned by Muslims, and a number of Islamic religious institutions and premises. Shockingly, the police stood by and watched the mobs attack the Muslims and their properties, without intervening,” the statement said.
Communal conflict has swept the country since June 2012, when violence broke out between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Burma, leaving more than 250 dead and 140,000 displaced. The majority of the displaced are Muslims.
Supreme Court lawyer Thein Than Oo added that officials in Arakan State were similarly irresponsible as their counterparts in Mandalay when dispersing press releases about the inter-religious violence in that region by using the pejorative term kalar when referring to the Rohingya Muslim community.