MANDALAY — A Buddhist mob has set fire to a Muslim section of a cemetery north of Mandalay, during the funeral of a Buddhist man who was killed in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims this week.
More than 1,000 people gathered on Friday afternoon at Kyanikan Cemetery, about 10 miles north of Burma’s second-biggest city. The crowd included many young men armed with bamboo sticks and rods, but no police officers, according to a photojournalist at the scene.
Fire trucks were heading to the cemetery at about 4:45 pm but were blocked on the road by the mob, a firefighter told The Irrawaddy.
Earlier in the afternoon, ahead of the burial, thousands of people had also flooded into the streets of downtown Mandalay while a hearse drove around the city’s moat at about 1:30 pm. A sign on the hearse read the deceased Buddhist man’s name, Tun Tun, and said he had been “brutally killed by Muslims on the night of July 2.”
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.
An invitation for the Buddhist man’s funeral urged city residents to join “with patriotism
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and for the love of religion.”
Police and security forces were stationed on some thoroughfares downtown during the procession. At the corner of 26th and 80th streets, in the vicinity of the previous day’s riot scene, officers were dressed in riot gear and standing on alert.
In addition to mourners and observers, some people in the crowd held sticks and sang the national anthem as well as songs of an anti-Muslim movement known as 969.
A Buddhist monk told security forces and others through a loudspeaker not to interfere with the procession, and also not to act in any way that would spark unrest.
“This is a nationalist funeral. I want to plead with authorities not to prevent the procession from going ahead. This is a peaceful procession,” he said.
Some residents criticized the overall response of security forces in the city.
“It is quite ugly that we have that kind of unrest even if we have police and military,” said Hsu Nget, a prominent writer who lives in Mandalay.
“Normally, they arrest people who don’t wear helmets while they are on motorbikes. I can’t help wondering why they didn’t arrest those who held sticks and knives,” he added, referring to mobs involved in the previous night of clashes.
“The situation is not stable yet and we are worried,” said Win Mya Mya, deputy chief of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in Mandalay Division.
The 65-year old Muslim woman said she felt sorry about what happened in previous two days, and added that Buddhists and Muslims in the city had good relations in the past.
“Muslims patron Buddhist shops, and vice versa. We were like relatives until the recent hate speech,” she said.
Asked her feelings about the unrest, she said, “Whether a Buddhist or Muslim is killed, I feel I have lost someone from my family.”
Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims first broke out on Tuesday night, after rumors circulated online that a Buddhist woman had been raped by her Muslim employers. Violence continued on Wednesday night, leaving at least 14 people injured. A curfew was imposed in the city on Thursday night.