Police in Myanmar have opened fire on a group of Buddhists who were trying to seize a government office in the troubled Rakhine State, killing seven people.
The unrest began late Tuesday as a group of around 5,000 Buddhists gathered for a nationalist ceremony in a town known as Mrauk U.
It was not immediately clear why the rally descended into violence, but a police spokesman blamed the crowd for “starting the violence” by throwing stones and barging into a district administrative office and calling for “sovereignty” for Rakhine State.
“Security forces asked them to disperse and fired warning shots with rubber bullets... but they didn’t stop, so police had to use real bullets,” AFP quoted spokesman Colonel Myo Soe as saying on Wednesday. “Seven people were killed and 13 injured.”
“The situation is under control now. Security is being deployed in the town at this moment,” according to Myo, who said some 20 officers had also been wounded by the crowd.
Mrauk U has so far been untouched by the violence that Myanmar’s army and extremist Buddhists have unleashed on minority Muslims in Rakhine. The crackdown, which started in late 2016, has reportedly left thousands of Rohingya Muslims dead and scores of their villages torched and completely destroyed. Aid organizations have also reported numerous cases of sexual abuse against Rohingya women and children.
Since August 25 last year, when Myanmar’s military launched a new wave of violence, troops have been committing killings and rapings, making arbitrary arrests, and carrying out mass arson attacks to destroy the Rohingya’s houses in Rakhine.
The violence has forced thousands of Rohingya people to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where they live in overcrowded and squalid refugee camps. Many other Muslims have also been trapped in camps in central Rakhine.
Also on Tuesday, the government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar agreed with Bangladesh to complete within two years the return of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar.
Extremist Buddhists in Myanmar have for decades attempted to assert themselves, including by trying to drive out the Rohingya Muslims.