Shan state’s regional government late last week slammed the establishment of an inter-faith organisation in Taunggyi.
Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Muslims formed the group on 8 May while attending a workshop sponsored by the Yadanar Myay Social Development Association and Norwegian People’s Aid.
On Saturday, Shan state’s regional government posted a statement on its website publicly objecting to the establishment of the group, claiming authorities had given the green light to the workshop but had not provided the attendees with permission to form an organisation in the event’s wake.
The group’s patron Buddhist monk Khema Nanda said authorities had not contacted him to express their disapproval.
“I knew that a statement was posted online, but I never received an official notice,” said Khema Nanda.
The controversy around the formation of the inter-faith group comes as tensions between Buddhists and Muslims continues to flare up across the country.
On Tuesday, religious violence spilled over into Shan state’s Lashio after a Muslim resident allegedly doused a Buddhist woman with petrol and set her ablaze.
According to a National League for Democracy Central Executive Committee member in Lashio, police said the man behind the attack was apprehended and later found to be carrying drugs.
“They apparently found two pills on him – he bought some petrol from a roadside vendor, then splashed her with it and tried to set her on fire. She ran and in the end was caught on fire,” said Sai Myint Maung.
“He was apprehended by residents in the neighbourhood and sent to the police station-1.”
Once he was taken to Lashio’s police station-1, a crowd of approximately 150 people gathered outside the building demanding the suspect be handed over to the mob.
“We went to the police station to clarify that it was actually we the Buddhists being terrorised and not the other way around,” said Buddhist monk Ashin Inkura who was at the scene.
“We wouldn’t want fingers pointed at our religion.”
After authorities refused to comply with the crowds’ demands, the mob went on a rampage across the city targeting mosques, an Islamic school and Muslim-owned businesses, including teashops and a restaurant.
Authorities responded by installing a curfew in the town at 9pm, and according to photographs taken at the scene, military troops were deployed to the municipality to maintain order.
The riots in Lashio are the latest episode of ongoing religious violence to erupt since fighting broke out a year ago between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhists Arakanese in western Burma’s Arakan state.
Similar bouts of rioting have spread across central Burma and now appears to be spilling over into the country’s northern borderlands.
While Burma’s transition from military junta to quasi-civilian government has resulted in the removal of targeted sanctions by western governments, Thein Sein’s inability to quell religious rioting and the rising tide of Buddhist nationalism in the country has tarnished the leader’s reformist image.
During a meeting in Rangoon on Monday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi spoke out against a ban imposed by Arakan state officials that prevents Rohingya in multiple towns from having more than two children.
According to a report in AFP, Suu Kyi described the policy as discriminatory and said the ban was “not in line with human rights”.
-Nang Mya Nadi provided additional reporting.