World Bulletin / News Desk
Less than 48 hours after the latest flare-up in communal violence rocked a bustling market town just north of Yangon, it was almost business as usual Sunday.
As busy shoppers moved among stalls selling fruit, flowers and medicine in Hlegu, the most conspicuous sign that a rock-hurling mob had attacked Muslim shops and a mosque two nights before was a large group of police officers lazily guarding a damaged building cordoned off with bright yellow tape.
Other groups of police were dotted in and around the market, some in large trucks clad with riot shields.
On Friday afternoon, a crowd began to swell in the market after a fight broke out between Muslim men and a Buddhist. Locals told the Anadolu Agency that they were members of two feuding families that own shops next to one another.
Rioters hurled rocks at vehicles, Muslim shops and a mosque as police with shields beat people with batons and tried to contain the crowd of at least 100.
Police made arrests and enforced a curfew between 6pm and 6am. The situation was calm Sunday, local officials told AA.
Myanmar has witnessed a rising wave of anti-Muslim sentiment since a reform-inclined government allowed greater freedom of expression following decades of harsh military dictatorship.
The clash in Hlegu is among the least severe in a series of ethnic riots that have plagued Myanmar since mid-2012, claimed up to 280 lives and displaced tens of thousands. But it has struck fear into the local Muslim population.
Maung Maung, the vice chairman of the Hlegu branch of the opposition National League for Democracy, told AA that around 30 Muslim families had fled Hlegu because of the attacks.
Many are still afraid to leave their homes and open their businesses in the township, he added.
The riot also raised the specter of communal clashes taking place in nearby Yangon, the nation’s commercial hub and former capital.
A recent risk report by London-based analysts Maplecroft said that rising tensions spurred by monk-led anti-Muslim groups such as 969 had “increased the risk of violence in Yangon.”
The report, written before the clash in Hlegu, cites low-level violence that erupted on the outskirts of Yangon last year. One incident in Oakkan saw several people injured and one killed.
There were no reported fatalities on Friday, and some residents downplayed the impact of the violence.
“It was just a problem between families … it’s all peaceful now,” Kayad Yin, a Buddhist who lives across the river from the market where the mob gathered, told AA.
The fight that sparked the violence saw one Muslim man stab his Buddhist opponent in the eye with a pair of scissors, narrowly missing his eyeball. The Buddhist man was taken to a specialist eye hospital in Yangon for treatment, according to government-run media.
The two Muslims ran and hid inside a nearby snack shop, said witnesses, causing a standoff as a growing crowd began throwing stones at buildings and demanding that the shop’s owner hand over the men.
Police arrived to contain the mob, but splinter groups broke loose and began hurling stones at the local mosque.
Khin Myint, a major in Hlegu’s police force, told AA on Sunday that ten people had been arrested since the attacks started. He declined to give further details.
Two police officers were reported wounded by missiles in the violence. Local media reported Saturday that at least five people had been injured, but Khin Myint denied that there had been any injuries among local residents.
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At least 10 bodies were seen around the base, but it was not immediately possible to determine the number of fatalities