Buddhist mobs attacked Muslim neighbourhoods in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state on Tuesday, burning down at least 14 houses and shops but causing no casualties, police said. “Mobs from nearby villages started setting fire to Muslim houses and shops in five villages around Thandwe,” a police officer said in a phone interview from Thandwe, about 270 kilometres north-west of Yangon.

“The villages are spread out over a wide area so we couldn’t protect them all,” said the officer, who asked to remain anonymous.

“We had to shoot in the air many times to break up the mob.” Thandwe is situated more than 100 kilometres 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 the 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 Sunday night, said Win Myaing, a Rakhine state government spokesman. The renewed sectarian tensions in the Rakhine 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,” Win Myaing said.DPA