YANGON: Police have arrested 44 people in connection with deadly anti-Muslim violence in western Myanmar, state media said on Sunday, after the latest violence erupted during a presidential tour of the strife-torn region.
Days of tensions in the town of Thandwe in restive Rakhine State turned into bloodshed on Tuesday, with a mob of hundreds descending on one outlying village torching homes and attacking local Muslims.
Unrest continued on Wednesday despite a visit by President Thein Sein, who stayed overnight in Thandwe as part of his first trip to Rakhine since a wave of religious violence erupted there last year, leaving dozens dead and tens of thousands homeless.
The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said 42 men and two women were being questioned over their suspected involvement in unrest from September 29 to October 1.
“It is learned that due to riot occurred in Thandwe Township, 114 houses, three religious buildings and one gasoline warehouse were burnt down, leaving 482 people homeless, five people dead and five injured,” the English language report said.
It said “relief works” were under way in the area, but gave no further details of the situation for those left homeless.
A police official said a sixth person had died of a heart attack during Tuesday’s bloodshed, which happened near the popular tourist destination of Ngapali Beach.
“The situation is calm at this moment. We are also keeping an eye on it,” he said.
A mob of some 800 people was involved on Tuesday’s bloodshed, police said, with a 94-year-old woman among those killed.
What began last year as communal fighting between Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Rohingya Muslims has since spread, with other minority Muslim groups increasingly targeted.
Around 250 people have been killed and more than 140,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence around the country since June 2012, mostly in Rakhine.
A growing Buddhist nationalist movement, spearheaded by radical monks under the name “969,” has been accused of fanning the flames of hatred and posters for the group were visible around Thandwe.
Unrest in the town was apparently sparked by an argument over a parking space between a Buddhist tuk tuk driver and a Muslim homeowner.
Several of the Muslim man’s properties were set alight, authorities said, and he was arrested on unknown charges.
Rights groups have previously accused Myanmar’s authorities of complicity with rioters in the Buddhist-majority nation—a claim the government denies.
Both the United States and United Nations expressed serious concern over the latest incidents.