Buddhist mobs attacked Muslim neighbourhoods in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine State on Tuesday, killing at least four people just hours before a planned visit to the area by the President.
“Four people were reported dead and 50 more were injured by this evening,” said a police officer in Thandwe, about 270 km northwest of Yangon.
The mobs also burned down at least 100 houses and shops in villages neighbouring Thandwe city, he said.
“We can’t get the exact number of dead and injured now,” said Win Myaing, spokesman for the Rakhine State government. “We are trying to restore order,” he said by phone.
Buddhist mobs started setting fire to Muslim houses and shops in five villages around Thandwe on Tuesday, and police failed to contain it due to a lack of personnel, the police officer said.
Thandwe is situated more than 100 km south of Sittwe, the capital of the Rakhine State, which was the scene of bloody sectarian fighting last year that claimed at least 167 lives and left 140,000 homeless, most of them Rohingya Muslims.
Last year’s violence was aimed at the Rohingya Muslim minority group, a stateless people who have been living for generations in the three northernmost townships of Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh.
Tuesday’s violence appeared to be directed against Rakhine Muslims who are Myanmar citizens, sources said.
Trouble started in Thandwe on Saturday after a Buddhist taxi driver complained to police about being verbally abused by a Muslim shop owner for parking in front of his establishment.
Police took the Muslim in for questioning.
When he was released, Rakhine Buddhists became enraged and pelted the man’s house with stones, according to police reports.
At least two houses were burned down in Thandwe on Sunday night, Mr. Myaing said.
The renewed sectarian tensions in the Rakhine State came hours before Myanmar President Thein Sein was due to arrive in the restive state for the first time since taking office in March 2011.
“President Thein Sein will arrive in Sittwe this evening and plans to meet ethnic Rakhine members of parliament tomorrow,” Mr. Myaing said. “He may also visit the refugee camps.” Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, where Muslims account for an estimated 10 per cent of the population of 60 million.