OKKAN, Myanmar – They slept terrified in the fields, watching their homes burn. And when they returned Wednesday, nothing was left but smoldering ash and debris.
One day after hundreds of Buddhists armed with bricks stormed a clutch of Muslim villages in the closest explosion of sectarian violence yet to Myanmar’s main city, Yangon, newly displaced Muslims combed through the wasteland of their wrecked lives.
We ran into the fields and didn’t carry anything with us, Hla Myint, a 47-year-old father of eight, said after the mobs overran his village. Tears welling in his eyes, he added, Now, we have nothing left.
Thet Lwin, a deputy commissioner of police for the region, said one person was killed and nine injured. He said police have detained 18 attackers who destroyed 157 homes and shops and at least two mosques in Okkan, 50 miles north of Yangon, and three outlying villages.
The unrest was the first reported since late March, when similar Buddhist-led violence swept the town of Meikthila, further north in central Myanmar, killing at least 43 people.
Muslim residents said a mixture of local villagers and people from nearby areas were responsible for the attacks around Okkan. Police gave no details, but a local politician from the pro-government National Union party, Myint Thein, said members of a Buddhist campaign called 969 were involved.
The movement, which urges Buddhists to shop only at Buddhist stores and avoid marrying, hiring or selling their homes or land to Muslims, is small but has spread rapidly in recent months, and human rights activists say it has helped fuel anti-Muslim violence.