Tensions between Buddhist extremists and the Muslim minority in Myanmar flared up once again after a Buddhist mob reportedly destroyed a mosque in the province of Bago.
Authorities said an angry mob of around 200 Buddhists attacked the Muslim place of worship following a disagreement between neighbors over the building of a Muslim school.
While violence between the two religious groups is common, this is the first major incident that has emerged in the news ever since Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party broke the grip of military-backed government in November's historic election.
There were a lot of hopes of positive reforms in the country under the leadership of the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner, who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her human rights activism — especially concerning the plight of Rohingya Muslims who have suffered persecution for decades at the hands of Buddhist extremists.
There are 135 official ethnic groups in Myanmar, but Rohingya Muslims — despite living there for hundreds of years — are not one of them.
The Buddhist-majority country instead refers to them as "Bengali" or "kalar," which is a pejorative word for people of South Asian descent. Consequently, the Rohingya aren’t recognized as citizens and are deprived of nearly all their basic rights.
However, far from solving the religious conflict, Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to even mention the name “Rohingya.”
On June 20, she told the U.N. Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, her government would not use the term "Rohingya" because it viewed it as “inflammatory.”
Meanwhile, she has carefully refused to denounce Buddhist extremism expanding unchecked under the leadership of influential Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, who has initiated a hate campaign against imaginary Islamic expansion, targeting ethnic Rohingya as well as other Muslim minority groups.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s approach toward the two religious groups appears rather disconcerting since she considers an ethnic term more inflammatory than angry mobs ransacking buildings.
Own Lwin, the local police chief, said around 100 police officers deployed to Bago to maintain peace in the area. Yet, dozens of Muslim villagers in the region have fled their hometown, fearing more clashes.
No arrests have been made over the destruction of the mosque.