Burma: Mosque burned down by mob amid spike in religious violence

Attackers armed with sticks and knives demolished and set fire to the prayer hall in north Burma

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The Independent Online

A mosque in north Burma has been burned down by an out-of-control mob – the second attack on a Muslim place of worship in the predominantly Buddhist nation in just over a week.

Attackers armed with sticks, knives and other weapons demolished the prayer hall in the town of Hpakant on Friday.

Security forces were unable to control the mob, which tore down the building and set it alight, according to state-owned newspaper the Global New Light of Myanmar.

This is the second religious attack of its kind in recent days after a group of men demolished a mosque and a Muslim cemetery in a village in the central Bago region, north east of Yangon, on 23 June.

According to the newspaper, the most recent attack was in reaction to a dispute between mosque leaders and local authorities, who had ordered the religious structure to be taken down to make way for the construction of a bridge.

A deadline of 30 June was set for the mosque’s demolition, but when this was not met, local people reportedly descended on the mosque to take the matter into their own hands.

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The site of the destroyed mosque in Hpakant in north Burma (Myanmar News Agency)

An investigation into the incident has been launched, but so far police have not been able to identify any of the attackers.

News of the mosque’s destruction broke as the UN urged the Burmese government to crack down on religious violence in the country.

"It is clear that tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society," said UN special human rights envoy Yanghee Lee in a statement on Friday.

"Incidents of hate speech, incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence, and of religious intolerance continue to be a cause for concern."

Sporadic but fierce violence against Muslims in Burma has occurred since rioting in 2012 forced more than 100,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority to flee their homes in the western Rakhine State. 

Discrimination against the Rohingya is widespread and the government refuses to recognize most as citizens, treating even long-term residents as illegal immigrants. 

Ms Lee expressed specific concern over attacks on religious properties, recommending the government take “prompt action” over the 23 June incident.

“It is vital that the government take prompt action, including by conducting thorough investigations and holding perpetrators to account,” she said.

“I am therefore concerned by reports that the government will not pursue action in the most recent case due to fears of fueling greater tensions and provoking more conflict. This is precisely the wrong signal to send.”

Human rights groups have criticized Burma’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to act decisively against the extremists encouraging the attacks.

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