Fresh anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar

Terrified Muslim families who fled from the assaults could be seen hiding in trees and along roads.

Okkan (Myanmar): Buddhist mobs attacked and overran two mosques and set hundreds of homes ablaze in central Myanmar Wednesday, injuring at least 10 people in the latest anti-Muslim violence to shake the Southeast Asian nation.

Terrified Muslim families who fled from the assaults could be seen hiding in trees and along roads.

Many, in a state of shock, cried as their houses burned in the night and young men with buckets tried futilely to douse the flames.

Today`s attacks occurred in Okkan, about 110 kilometres north of Yangon, and were the first reported since Buddhist mobs rampaged in late March through the town of Meikthila and several villages, all further north, killing at least 43 people.

Two mosques were overrun and looted in Okkan, but the worst-hit areas were several outlying villages that form part of the town. Each village contained at least 60 Muslim homes, and regional police chief Win Naing said three of the villages were burned in arson attacks.

Columns of smoke and leaping flames rose from several villages as police approached them, pausing to take pictures with their cellphones.

Khin Maung Than, a 60-year-old Muslim shopkeeper in Okkan whose home was heavily damaged by the mobs, stood in shock, saying: "I am speechless. I have never experienced such riots in my life."
He said he had heard of last month`s violence in Meikhtila, but "I didn`t realize we`d face this because our town was very peaceful."

Win Naing, the police chief, said hundreds of people participated in the attacks, but he gave few details on who they were.
He said at least 10 people had been injured, but there were no immediate reports of deaths.

Stopping the spread of sectarian violence has proven a major challenge for President Thein Sein`s reformist government since it erupted in western Rakhine state last year. Human rights groups have recently accused his administration of failing to crack down on Buddhist extremists as violence has spread closer to the economic capital, Yangon, at times overwhelming riot police who have stood by as machete-wielding crowds attacked Muslims and their property.

Yesterday, a government-appointed commission investigating the Rakhine violence issued proposals to ease tensions there, including doubling the number of security forces in the volatile region and introducing family planning programs to stem population growth among minority Muslims.