x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Five mosques and dozens of homes torched in Myanmar

The fresh violence came just hours before the top UN envoy to Myanmar called on the government to punish those responsible for a tragedy that left dozens of corpses piled in the streets, some of them charred beyond recognition.

MEIKHTILA, Myanmar // Dozens of houses and a mosque were torched as communal violence flared up again in Myanmar at the weekend, officials said yesterday.

"Altogether 43 houses and a mosque were burned last night [Saturday] ... most of the houses belong to Muslims," a ward official in Yamethin town said.

The Information Ministry said 52 people had been arrested and 13 held in Meiktila town, where lethal riots last week left at least 32 people dead and thousands displaced.

The fresh violence came just hours before the top UN envoy to Myanmar toured Meiktila yesterday, calling on the government to punish those responsible for a tragedy that left dozens of corpses piled in the streets, some of them charred beyond recognition.

Vijay Nambiar, the UN secretary general's special adviser on Myanmar, also visited some of the nearly 10,000 people driven from their homes during the violence.

Most of the displaced were minority Muslims, who appeared to have suffered the brunt of the violence as armed Buddhist mobs roamed city.

Mr Nambiar said he was encouraged to learn that some people from both communities had bravely helped each other and that religious leaders were advocating peace. He said the people he spoke to believed the violence "was the work of outsiders", but he gave no further details.

"There is a certain degree of fear and anxiety among the people, but there is no hatred," said Mr Nambiar after visiting both groups and promising the United Nations would provide as much help as it could to get the city back on its feet. "They feel a sense of community and that it is a very good thing because they have worked together and lived together."

But he said: "It is important to catch the perpetrators. It is important they be caught and punished."

Mr Nambiar's visit came a day after the army took control of the city to enforce a tense calm after the president, Thein Sein, ordered a state of emergency.

On Saturday night, the government put the death toll at 32. At least five mosques were set on fire between Wednesday and Friday

The bloodshed was the first sectarian unrest to spread into Myanmar's heartland since two similar incidents in western Rakhine state last year.

It is the latest challenge facing efforts to reform the country after the ruling military ceded power two years ago to a civilian government led by retired army officers.