YANGON, Myanmar – President Thein Sein traveled to Myanmar’s conflict-torn west as a new spate of mob-led arson attacks against Muslim homes erupted Tuesday, his first visit to the divided region since sectarian violence broke out there more than a year ago.
A senior official in the president’s office said Thein Sein arrived in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe and would expected to travel to several more towns in the area, including Maungdaw to the north and Thandwe to the south, where Buddhist mobs started torching Muslim homes Sunday.
The official, who declined to be identified because he was unauthorized to speak about the sensitive trip, said only that Thein Sein “is going there to help find a long-term solution to the problem.”
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation, has been grappling with Buddhist-Muslim violence that has killed hundreds of people and sent 140,000 more fleeing since June 2012, the majority of them Muslims. Initially limited to Rakhine state, the unrest spread earlier this year to several other cities in the country.
The latest flare-up began in the coastal town of Thandwe on Saturday after a Buddhist taxi driver told police he had been verbally abused by a Muslim small business owner while trying to park in front of his shop, according to a state government spokesman.
Police took the Muslim man in for questioning. But when he was released soon after, people became angry and started throwing stones at his home.
Several houses were burned Sunday, and a curfew was imposed. But on Tuesday, ethnic Rakhine Buddhist mobs began new arson attacks.
A police officer stationed in Thandwe who declined to be identified said hundreds of rioters burned homes in three villages in Thandwe township on Tuesday morning.