MANDALAY —After four days of unrest between Buddhist and Muslim communities, calm had returned to Mandalay and surrounding areas on Saturday,where thestreets were quiet and largely deserted. Residents said, however,that they lived in fear of another outbreak of inter-communal violence.
In Mandalay’s Muslim neighborhoods, located southeast of the old moat, shops were shuttered and armed security forces were deployed at access routes to the areas and atreligious buildings. Hundreds of police officers in riot gear stood guard atJoon Mosque, one of the city’s biggest mosques.
Police said they had made a number of arrests in relation with the violence.
“So far, 11 people have been arrested,” said Mandalay District Police chief Sein Tun. “For security, we have deployed three police battalions. We haven’t asked for any help from the military because we don’t need it.”
“Now, the minister of home affairs and the national police chief are in Mandalay to assess the situation,”SeinTun added.
A Muslim owner of an electrical goods shop in the city center said the community had closed their businesses and was anxiously waiting for tensions to subside.“It would be better to close the shop for awhile for safety reasons. The closure will affect the business but safety is the first thing we have to think of,” said the man, who asked not to
The main markets in city center were open, but most shops remains closed, including those located in Burmese Buddhist and Chinese communities.
“We do not know what will happen next. If something happens again in the area, it will be difficult for us to close the shop and we will not be able to run back home quickly,” said Ma Myo, a Buddhist owner of a clothing shop.
Violence first broke out on Tuesday night after allegations circulated on Facebook that a Muslim tea shop owner had raped a Buddhist maid. Mandalay-based nationalist Buddhist monk Wirathu quickly fanned the tensions by spreading the accusations and calling for action against the shop owner.
During clashes between communities, a 36-year-old Buddhist man was killed and a 50-year-old Muslim man was beaten to death. Fourteen people were injured.
Unrest continued to simmer in subsequent days and on Thursday night authorities imposed a 9 pm to 5 am curfew for all six of Mandalay’s townships.
A Chinese restaurant owner, who declined to be named said, “We normally operate late at night but now we have to close before 9pm.Although our customers buy foods early in the evening, our income has slightly declined. We hope peace will be restored very soon.”
On Friday, the curfew was extended to PatheinGyi Township, a rural area north of Mandalay, where hundreds of villagers, angered after attending the funeral of a Buddhist victim,vandalized the Muslim section of a cemetery and burned down several small buildings.
During a visit to the area on Saturday morning, the streets were empty and residents were afraid to leave their homes.
“Since Act 144 [curfew] was announced last night, traffic on the roadshas dried up and the markets became nearly deserted. People are living in fear and worry that something will happen”, said KyawMyint, a resident of PatheinGyi Township.
“People whisper to each other in fear about what was happened in recent days and have warned eachother not to go outside if it is not necessary,” he said.“I’m also afraid. It seems we have no choice, but have to sit on a huge pile of gunpowder while fearing that someone might ignite it.”
Irrawaddy reporters visitedPatheinGyi Township Police Station but officers refused to discuss the situation.