SHAFAQNA – A group of men from a village in central Myanmar destroyed a mosque in the first serious outburst of inter-religious violence in months, coinciding with a rise in tensions over how to refer to the Rohingya, the country’s persecuted Muslim minority.
Villagers from Thayethamin, a remote settlement a two-hours’ drive northeast of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, destroyed the mosque on Thursday after a dispute over its construction, and beat up at least one Muslim man, media and a police spokesman said.
Religious tensions simmered in Myanmar for almost half a century of military rule, before boiling over in 2012, just a year after a semi-civilian government took power.
Hundreds died in clashes in northwestern Rakhine State between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, leading to the organized expulsion of Rohingya by Rakhine mobs. More violence between Muslims and Buddhists in other parts of the country followed in 2013.
Photographs that circulated on social media on Friday, purportedly from the village, showed a seriously damaged building, furniture scattered along the streets and a large group of men roaming around, some armed with sticks.
Further details of the incident were unclear. Reuters was unable to verify the photographs.
“Things are well under control now and action hasn’t been taken against anyone yet,” said colonel Zaw Khin Aung, spokesman of the Police Headquarters based in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.
The violence coincides with a rise in tensions over how to refer to the Rohingya, a 1.1-million group of Muslims living in apartheid-like conditions in Rakhine since the 2012 violence.
Country leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won in a landslide in historic November elections, faces a daunting task of resolving ethnic and religious tensions and ending human rights abuses in the state.
On Monday, she told the U.N. Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, that the government would not use the term “Rohingya” because it viewed it as inflammatory.
The Rohingya identify themselves by that name. Many have lived in Myanmar for generations, but many Myanmar Buddhists call them “Bengali” – a term implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi has appealed to people not to use either term, and instead refer to the “Muslim community in Rakhine State”.
The U.N. on Monday called on the Nobel peace prize winner to make putting an end to the abuses the government’s “top priority”. It said that the violations, which include executions and torture, may amount to crimes against humanity.