MANDALAY — Following a funeral for a Buddhist man killed during recent inter-communal violence, a mob of angry Buddhists burned down an orphanage, a rest house and a farm at a Muslim section of a cemetery north of Mandalay on Friday afternoon, Mandalay firefighters said.
In the center of the city, hundreds of young men armed with sticks were gathered to head to a Muslim area but they were turned away by a heavy police presence. As dusk fell Friday evening, the situation appeared calm in central Mandalay and the main streets were deserted.
Authorities extended the 9 pm to 5 am curfew to Pathein Gyi Township, located northeast of Mandalay. On Thursday, authorities had already imposed a curfew in all six of the city’s townships.
Around 5 pm Friday, crowds of young Buddhist men on motorbikes were seen heading towards to Muslim areas southeast of the old moat, close to the site where a Buddhist man named Tun Tun was killed on Wednesday during clashes with Muslim residents.
The situation was tense and police asked residents to go inside as they prepared to clamp
down on any outbreak of violence. “We will open fire if needed. You guys should be careful,” a police officer warned journalists gathered at the scene.
For the first time since the unrest broke out, hundreds of police officers in protective riot gear and armed with teargas grenades were sent to clear streets of central Mandalay.
During a funeral procession for the Buddhist man earlier Friday afternoon a mob destroyed motorbike and a truck in the city center.
Tun Tun, 36, was one of two people killed in the early hours of Thursday morning during clashes between Buddhists and Muslims. A Muslim man was also beaten to death on his way to a mosque for morning prayers. Fourteen people were injured during the violence, which began Tuesday night.
A Muslim resident said police officers had come to search Mandalay’s Joon Mosque early on Friday morning.
He said five Muslim men were arrested, including the son of the imam, adding that that police had seized weapons, such as iron rods, knives and swords. “We kept those weapons to defense ourselves if needed, not to attack,” said the man, who asked not be named.
Some residents of Mandalay have criticized the police actions so far, saying that security forces had failed to deal with the outbreak of inter-communal violence and did little to contain the angry Buddhist mobs moving through the city.
During the arson at the Muslim cemetery, located some 10 miles north of the city, no police were present, a photojournalist on the scene has said.
Burma’s national police chief Brig-Gen Win Khaung defended the police performance in a phone interview with The Irrawaddy.
“If we use a lot of force and target the mobs, our police force will be criticized again for using too much armed force,” he said. “When we want to solve this problem peacefully and we did not use armed forces, the critics are not happy and say we are weak.”
“We cannot arrest whoever we see on the street,” he said, adding, “If we need more police forces, we will deploy more… we already added extra more police from other areas to be deployed.”
Some 1,000 police were deployed in central Mandalay in recent days and on Tuesday several warning shots were reportedly fired to disperse a crowd.
The unrest began after a Burmese Facebook user alleged that the Muslim owner of a teashop had raped a Buddhist maid. Nationalist monk U Wirathu, who is known for his hate speech against Muslims, quickly spread the message and called for justice.
Mandalay police have opened a case against to investigate the accusations but the accused has fled.
Since mid-2012, Burma has experienced recurrent outburst of deadly inter-communal violence, often sparked by allegations of rape of Buddhist women by Muslim that are spread on social media.
In the past, security forces have been accused of doing little to quell the violence and of siding with Buddhist mobs during the violence.
Arakan State in western Burma has been worst-affected and tens 140,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims have been displaced by the violence. Central Burma saw rounds of anti-Muslim violence in more than a dozen cities last year, and in the city of Meikthila 40 were killed and more than 10,000 displaced in March 2013.
It is the first time, however, that Mandalay, Burma’s second biggest city, has been hit by an outbreak of anti-Muslim violence.