Yangon: Myanmar police have detained five villagers for burning down a mosque last week, an officer said Tuesday, as authorities look to contain religious violence in the Buddhist-majority nation.
Anti-Muslim sentiment has fomented across Myanmar in recent years, sporadically erupting into bloodshed and threatening to damage democratic gains in the former junta-run country.
In the past two weeks, Buddhist mobs have ransacked two mosques in separate towns, sending Muslim residents fleeing to other villages for safety.
Myanmar’s state security forces, which are overwhelmingly Buddhist, have faced criticism for slow or incomplete investigations into previous acts of religious violence.
But on Tuesday they said they had arrested five people linked to the attack on a mosque in northern Kachin State last Friday.
“We have arrested four men and a woman. They (were part of the group) who destroyed the mosque,” Moe Lwin, a police officer from Lone Khin, the affected village, told AFP.
The group allegedly joined the armed Buddhist mob that stormed the prayer hall and burned it to the ground last week.
“It is not very easy to take legal action against all the people concerned with this case as there were many people there on that day,” he added.
But no arrests have been made in the central Bago village where another mosque was ransacked last month, according to a local Muslim leader.
“I can see the people who destroyed the mosque walking in front of me every day in the village,” Win Shwe, the mosque’s secretary, told AFP.
Bouts of religious violence in Myanmar have torn communities apart and left scores dead in recent years, with the worst bloodshed hitting western Rakhine state in 2012.
Rakhine remains almost completely divided on religious grounds, with the one-million-strong Muslim Rohingya facing heavy restrictions on their movement and discrimination from a government that denies them citizenship.
Carving out a solution for the stateless minority, who are reviled by increasingly strident Buddhist nationalists, has posed a steep challenge to the new administration led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The veteran rights activist has come under fire for failing to take up the group’s plight as she seeks to avoid stoking further unrest over the sensitive issue.
UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said the body was particularly concerned by reports that police were at the mosque on Friday but had failed to take action to prevent it being destroyed.
“We call on the government to investigate both these incidents, as well as the responses by local authorities, in a prompt and thorough manner,” he said.
“These acts of mob violence could fuel a further cycle of hostility in the country, and we urge immediate steps be taken to prevent further incidents of religious intolerance.”