Myanmar, Buddhists launch fresh attack on homes and shops of Islamic community
The clashes took place at the weekend in a village in northern Sagaing division. Violence triggered by alleged rape of a Buddhist woman by a group of Muslims. Police arrested 12 people, but tension remains high. Activists and experts speak of "catastrophic" risk of interfaith conflict.

Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Burmese security forces have arrested 12 people, protagonists of sectarian tensions over the weekend have. According to local sources, the clashes were sparked by an attempted sexual assault on a Buddhist woman in the village of Htan Gone, in the town of Kanbalu region of northern Sagaing, by a group of Muslims. The Information Ministry adds that the events took place on the evening of 24 August and triggered the reaction of the Buddhist community. The wave of tensions pitting the Burmese Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority in Myanmar shows no sign of abating despite appeals for calm from the authorities and the invitation to dialogue made by prominent figures in the Catholic Church (including Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon), who work for national reconciliation.

After the suspects were detained, at least 150 inhabitants of the surrounding villages and three Buddhist monks gathered outside the police station, demanding they be handed over the alleged perpetrators. The police refused and the crowd started attacking buildings, shops, houses belonging to Muslims, throwing stones at police and targeting teams of firefighters who were attempting to quell the fires.

About a thousand people took part in the punitive raid, armed with sticks, stones, swords and other weapons, in the first episode of sectarian violence in Sagaing. More than 40 houses and shops belonging to Muslims were destroyed and only yesterday evening the police have managed to restore calm. The Muslim community, terrified by the violence, found refuge in neighboring villages or barricaded themselves inside the Islamic schools.

Human rights activists and experts in Burmese affairs state that sectarian tensions could void the efforts for change in a country ruled for decades by a brutal military dictatorship. Aid groups talk about "catastrophic" risks if the authorities do not intervene to avert a conflict that, at least in potential, will result in "crimes against humanity and / or genocide."

The clashes in recent days between Buddhists and Muslims confirm the climate of tension between the different ethnic groups and religious denominations that are mounting in Myanmar, theater last year of bloody violence in the western state of Rakhine between Arakanesi Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. The rape and murder of a young Buddhist sparked a spiral of terror, which caused hundreds of deaths and destroyed homes, along with thousands of refugees have sought refuge abroad. According to United Nations estimates there are at least 800 thousand Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, considered illegal immigrants by the government and for this reason victims of abuse and persecution.