Myanmar: Myanmar’s army took control of a ruined central city on Saturday, imposing a tense calm after clashes between Buddhists and Muslims left piles of corpses in the streets and buildings ablaze in the worst sectarian bloodshed to hit the Southeast Asian nation this year.
Truckloads of soldiers patrolled Meikhtila, taking up positions at intersections and banks as authorities delivered food and water to some 6,000 displaced Muslims who fled to makeshift camps at a local stadium and a police station. The government put the death toll at 32, according to state television, which reported that bodies had been found as authorities began cleaning up the area on Saturday.
President Thein Sein, a former general who vowed to bring democracy to Myanmar after half a century of military rule, imposed a state of emergency in the region Friday in a bid to end clashes that began two days earlier.
The unrest was the first of its kind in the country since two similar episodes shook western Rakhine state last year, and the spread of sectarian conflict has underscored both the challenges of reform and the government’s failure to rein in anti-Muslim sentiment in a predominantly Buddhist nation. Even monks have armed themselves and taken advantage of newfound freedoms to stage anti-Muslim rallies.
It was not immediately clear which side bore the brunt of the latest unrest, but at least five mosques were torched, and terrified Muslims, who make up about 30 percent of Meikhtila’s 100,000 inhabitants, have stayed off the streets as their shops and homes burned and Buddhist mobs carrying machetes and hammers tried to stop firefighters from dousing the flames.
Residents complained that police had stood by and done little to stop the mayhem. But “calm has been restored since troops took charge of security,” said Win Htein, an opposition lawmaker from Meikhtila.
Some residents, who had cowered indoors since the mayhem began Wednesday, emerged from their homes to inspect the destruction.
Little appeared to be left of some palm tree-lined neighborhoods, though, where the legs of victims could be seen poking out from smoldering masses of twisted debris and ash. Broken glass, charred cars and motorcycles and overturned tables littered roads beside rows of burned-out homes and shops, evidence of the widespread chaos that swept the town.
Local businessman San Hlaing said he counted 28 bodies this week, all men, piled in groups around the town, including beside a highway.