More than a 1,000 Muslims who fled Myanmar’s latest bout of sectarian violence have sought shelter in a Buddhist monastery guarded by army soldiers in Lashio.
The army transported Muslim families by the truckload on Thursday out of a neighbourhood in the northeastern city where overturned cars and motorcycles that had been charred a day earlier left black scars on the red earth.
“We heard things could get worse, so we waved down soldiers and asked them for help,” said 59-year-old Khin Than, who arrived at the monastery on Thursday morning with her four children and sacks of luggage along with several hundred other Muslims.
Buddhist monks organised meals for the newly arrived refugees, who huddled together in several buildings in the monastery compound.
Although a few Buddhist men could still be seen on Thursday riding motorbikes with crude weapons such as sharpened bamboo poles, no new violence was reported.
Several banks and shops reopened as residents emerged to look at destroyed Muslim shops.
Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Lashio, said soldiers were seen helping people who want to leave their homes.
“The downtown area is now largely sealed off,” he said. “Only people who live here are allowed to come and go and the Muslim community is long gone.”
The violence in Lashio this week highlights how anti-Muslim unrest has slowly spread across Myanmar since starting last year in western Rakhine state and hitting the central city of Meikhtila in March.
President Thein Sein’s government, which inherited power from the military two years ago, has been heavily criticised for failing to contain the violence.
The rioting began on Tuesday after a Muslim man splashed petrol on a Buddhist woman and set her on fire. Buddhist mobs responded by burning down several Muslim-owned shops, a mosque and an Islamic orphanage.
Our correspondent said that Buddhists in Lashio say they have lived alongside the Muslim community peacefully and blame outsiders for the attacks.
Roving motorcyclists continued the violence on Wednesday, leaving one person dead and four injured.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said 25 people had been detained so far.
He said all those arrested were from Lashio.
The violence is casting fresh doubt over whether Thein Sein’s government can, or will, act to contain the racial and religious intolerance plaguing a deeply fractured nation still struggling to emerge from half a century of military rule.
Muslims, who account for about four cent of Myanmar’s roughly 60 million people, have been the main victims of the violence since it began last year, but so far most criminal trials have involved prosecutions of Muslims, not members of the Buddhist majority.