Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Myanmar's security forces barred Muslim Rohingya from worshipping in mosques across Rakhine state, scene of sectarian violence a few weeks ago. The ban started in the third week of last month at the start of the Muslim fasting month. It is ongoing even with the end this week of Eid ul-Fitr, the festival that marks the conclusion of Ramadan.
Some eyewitnesses said that nearly all the 500 mosques in the western state had been affected. Sectarian tensions remain high in the area and the authorities are on high alert to prevent new clashes.
"At the start of Ramadan, Nasaka forces [Myanmar's border guards] sealed six mosques in our vicinity and threatened to arrest or shoot us if we dared to pray there," Kalimullah, a 60-year-old Rohingya man from Rakhine, told the South China Morning.
"We hoped they would open the mosques for us for Eid," the festivity that marks the end of Ramadan. "But they did not. We now know that Eid prayers were not held in any mosque in Arakan [Rakhine] yesterday." Instead of easing the restrictions for Eid, the clampdown intensified, Kalimullah added.
Myanmese officers and officials ordered Rohingya villages not to participate in mass prayers for Eid, and guards patrolled the traditional prayer grounds to prevent gatherings.
Human Rights Watch describes the situation as "state-sponsored persecution" of the Rohingya people whose culture and assets are being progressively destroyed.
Security forces told Rohingya that if they wanted to practice their Islamic faith, they should do so outside Myanmar, Kalimullah said.
Myanmese security forces were pressuring the Rohingya to leave the country, said Nurul Islam, a Rohingya rights activist based in Bangladesh.
In June, a district in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine State, sentenced three Muslims to death for the rape and murder in late May of Thida Htwe, a young Arakanese Buddhist. This sparked sectarian strife between Muslims and Buddhists.
The next day, an angry crowd blaming Muslims attacked a group of them travelling on a bus, killing ten, even though they were not involved in the previous incident.
The spiral of hatred has led to unrest and 29 people deaths, including 16 Muslims and 13 Buddhists, plus 38 people wounded.
According to official sources, at least 2,600 homes were set on fire, forcing hundreds of Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. However, they were turned back at the border by Bangladeshi authorities.