MEIKTILA, Myanmar: Angry mobs took to the streets of a riot-hit Myanmar town for a third day on Friday, as international pressure mounted for an end to communal unrest that has left 10 people reported dead.
Parts of Meiktila, in central Myanmar, have been reduced to ashes in the most serious Buddhist-Muslim clashes to hit the country since last year, with the authorities struggling to bring the situation under control.
Groups of men again roamed the debris-strewn streets after an overnight curfew ended, AFP journalists saw.
The charred remains of one victim were seen lying next to a burnt bicycle on a roadside late Thursday, while flames raged from torched mosques and houses in one part of the town, sending acrid smoke into the sky.
Britain joined international calls from the United States and the UN for an end to the violence, which local authorities said was sparked on Wednesday by a row in a Muslim-owned gold shop that erupted into a mass street brawl.
Calling for “an immediate end to the violence” British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt urged Myanmar’s government “to take all necessary action to protect civilians and to work with communities to tackle the hostility that is behind this.”
The violence comes as Myanmar struggles with serious tensions between Muslims and Buddhists that have marred international optimism over dramatic political reforms since the end of military rule two years ago.
Communal conflict in a different region, the western state of Rakhine, left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced last year.
Rights group Amnesty International urged Myanmar’s government to tackle the Meiktila violence or risk spiralling unrest.
“These latest reports of violence… show that tension between the two communities is spreading to other parts of the country,” said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Asia Pacific.
On Thursday Win Htein, a local lawmaker with the opposition National League for Democracy party, put the death toll at 10 people, saying he had seen bodies at the scene of clashes. A local resident confirmed the number of dead.
Myanmar state media on Friday said five people had died — a monk, three men and a women — with nearly 40 injured in rioting.
Authorities “declared that effective action would be taken against those who led the riots,” the English-language New Light of Myanmar added without giving details of the security response.
Myanmar’s Muslims — largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent — account for an estimated four percent of the roughly 60 million population, although the country has not conducted a census in three decades.