Authorities in Myanmar said Friday that they have detained 10 more suspects in connection with this week’s deadly anti-Muslim violence in western Rakhine state during a visit by President Thein Sein, who has questioned the motive behind the attacks instigated by “outsiders.”
“About 16” people have been detained since Tuesday’s riots in Thandwe township, a police officer speaking on condition of anonymity told RFA’s Myanmar Service. As of Thursday, police had nabbed six suspects.
“All of the detainees are [ethnic] Rakhines from the Thandwe area,” said another local police officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Kyaw Tint, referring to the latest arrests.
The detainees include three villagers who had collected and stored small homemade weapons and petrol, police said.
Buddhist rioters armed with knives and sticks went on a rampage in Pauktaw and Thabyuchine villages in Tuesday’s unrest, which has left five dead — including a 94-year-old woman who was stabbed to death — and several others injured.
About 100 buildings also were burned down in the violence, which erupted as Thein Sein made his first visit to Rakhine state since taking office in 2011 in a bid to promote reconciliation between Buddhist and Muslim communities following deadly clashes over the past two years.
A statement posted on the website of President Thein Sein’s office on Thursday said that he was “suspicious of the motive” behind the violence and thought they may have been “synchronized with his visit.”
The statement said evidence indicated the riots had been instigated by outsiders.
“External motives instigated the violence and conflicts,” it said. “According to the evidence in hand, rioters who set fire to the villages are outsiders.”
Among those detained earlier this week was the Thandwe chairman of the Rakhine National Development Party, Maung Pu.
RNDP President Aye Maung said Friday he doubted Maung Pu had acted improperly and that he believed police may have arrested him without solid evidence.
“A township level party chairman is the main person responsible for the party in this township. He is important for the party and everybody in Thandwe knows him,” Aye Maung said in an interview.
“We need to consider logically whether this kind of person would participate in setting fire on others’ houses or not.”
“Police and other authorities have arrested civil society and party leaders as casually as if they are catching chickens or birds,” he said.
Tuesday’s violence was the latest to hit Myanmar in a series of incidents that have killed at least 45 people this year. Clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists that rocked Rakhine state last year left more than 200 dead and 140,000 displaced.
In August, U.N.’s special envoy for human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana abandoned a visit to a refugee camp for Muslims displaced by clashes in central Myanmar’s Meikhtila after his car was attacked by a Buddhist mob.
The Myanmar government has denied his claim, saying Quintana had faced “peaceful” protesters scrambling to hand him a petition and said it did not consider the incident an attack.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.