YANGON - Muslims displaced by Myanmar's latest eruption of religious violence picked through the charred remains of their shattered homes as police patrolled the streets Monday, amid concern over spreading unrest.
Hundreds of people were made homeless after about 1,000 anti-Muslim rioters rampaged through villages in Kanbalu, in the central region of Sagaing, on Saturday evening, setting fire to Muslim property and attacking rescue vehicles with catapults. "It is going to be very difficult to rebuild our houses again. Some people are taking refuge in nearby homes or with relatives," said 40-year-old Muslim Aung San, who was displaced in the unrest.`
Myint Naing, a local MP for the opposition National League for Democracy party, told AFP that 160 men and 158 women who had lost their homes had taken shelter in a school.
"They had been living peacefully for many years and this is the first time they saw violence," he said, adding that the situation was now calm.
Attacks against Muslims - who make up at least four percent of the population - have exposed deep rifts in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, overshadowing widely praised political reforms since military rule ended in 2011.
Legislators from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) warned in a statement that Myanmar was "on the precipice of widespread inter-communal conflict". Myanmar was not doing enough to stop hate speech, they said.
"The deep underlying tensions are clear for all to see and we feel that the authorities are not reacting sufficiently to what is developing into a perilous situation in Myanmar," said Indonesian MP Eva Kusuma Sundari of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
A local photographer in Kanbalu told AFP that clashes had ended in the early hours of Sunday, but fires sparked by the riots burned until Sunday evening.
Some 250 police were deployed in the area as well as military personnel, he said.
State newspaper the New Light of Myanmar said the situation was "normal" by Monday morning and authorities were making arrangements to open camps for those who lost their homes. No injuries have been reported.
The report said 12 people had been arrested in relation to the unrest, which began after a Muslim man was detained on suspicion of attempting to rape a Buddhist woman on Saturday evening.
A crowd of about 150 people and three Buddhist monks gathered at the local police station demanding that the accused be handed over to them, according to a message on the Ministry of Information website. When the authorities refused, the mob attacked Muslim property and the crowd grew in size and ferocity as the night went on.
Religious violence has left about 250 people dead and more than 140,000 homeless in Myanmar - mostly Muslims - since clashes between Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim minority broke out in the west of the country last year.
This year the unrest has widened, with attacks on other Myanmar Muslims across the country.
Myanmar's once-feared security forces have often proved ineffective in dealing with the unrest, with rights groups claiming officials have actively colluded with rioters - a claim the government rejects.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric, spread by radical Buddhist monks, has been on the rise in Myanmar. Many of the clashes have featured retaliatory attacks against entire communities in response to accusations of seemingly isolated criminal acts.
Last week watchdog Physicians for Human Rights said Myanmar risked "catastrophic" levels of conflict with "potential crimes against humanity and/or genocide" if authorities failed to stem anti-Muslim hate speech and a culture of impunity around the clashes.