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Sectarian tensions flare in Myanmar town

Sunday - 9/29/2013, 3:38pm  ET

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Tension was high in a northwestern Myanmar town late Sunday after Buddhist mobs torched two homes belonging to Muslims and security forces were placed on high alert.

Win Myaing, a government spokesman in the restive state of Rakhine, said the trouble started in the coastal town of Thandwe on Saturday after a Buddhist taxi driver told police he had been verbally abused by a Muslim small business owner while trying to park in front of his shop.

Police took the Muslim man in for questioning. But when he was released soon after, people became angry and started throwing stones at his home.

Myaing said at least two houses had been burned down by Sunday night. Security forces were trying to restore order.

"The situation is under control but very tense." Myo Min a Muslim resident of Thandwe contacted by phone told The Associated Press, adding that residents were fearful because they were hearing rumors that more Buddhists in Rakhine would come to Thandwe to destroy Muslim houses.

A similar incident occurred in Thandwe, 170 miles (270 kilometers) northwest of Yangon, three months ago when two Muslim houses were burned down after rumors circulated that a woman had been raped by Muslim men.

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country of 60 million people, has been gripped by sectarian violence since June of last year. Most of the 250 people killed have been Muslims and 140,000 others have been displaced.

The latest flare-up will reinforce doubts that President Thein Sein's government can or will act to contain the violence.


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