A Buddhist mob destroyed a mosque in central Myanmar on Friday, forcing local Muslims to seek refuge overnight in a police station.
A dispute between neighbours over the building of a madrasa, a religious Islamic school, spilled into religious violence, officials and residents said. Police said that the mob attacked and injured a Muslim man and destroyed the under-construction madrasa.
Around 200 Buddhists then rampaged through the Muslim area of Thuye Tha Mein village in Bago province.
"It started when a Muslim man and a Buddhist women started to argue and then people came to fight him," Hla Tint, the village administrator, said.
"Parts of the mosque were destroyed... they also destroyed the fence of the Muslim cemetery," he added.
A villager, Abdul Sharif, was accused of building a madrasa in his compound. In this village of 500 houses, 40 houses belong to Muslims.
“He was taken to a hospital in Waw,” Htay Khaing, officer-in-charge at the police station in Waw Township said. Security has been provided for his family members, he added.
“For his safety, we will not disclose where he is being kept,” he said.
“I do not understand why Abdul Sharif was attacked. He is a good man to neighbours,” the victim’s brother Abdul Shareek said while waiting at the police station to meet with his brother.
He said that Abdul Sharif was building a new religious school at his house compound as an older madrasa in the mosque compound was unusable.
The villagers also destroyed the fence of a Muslim cemetery.
The violence coincides with a rise in tensions over how to refer to the Rohingya, a 1.1-million group of Muslims living in fear miserable condition in Rakhine since an outbreak of violence in 2012.
Around 70 Muslims, including children, were forced to seek shelter in a police station overnight on Thursday, he said. Police and the secretary of the mosque confirmed the damage, while a Muslim resident said that his community of around 150 people was now living in fear.
"We had to hide as some people were threatening to kill Muslims. The situation has never been like this before," Tin Shwe OO, 29, said, adding his family stayed at the small police station overnight.
"I do not dare to stay at my house. For the safety of my family, I want to stay somewhere else for about a week or so."
Outbreaks of deadly violence have become a threat for the country’s nascent democratic gains since the army began loosening its stranglehold on the Myanmar in 2011.
The worst violence struck central Myanmar and western Rakhine State. Tens of thousands of Rohingya still languish in displacement camps after rioting. Buddhist nationalists vigorously oppose moves to recognise the Rohingya as an official minority group, instead labelling them "Bengali" -- shorthand for illegal migrants from the border with Bangladesh.
Democracy champion Suu Kyi, who is currently visiting Thailand, has come under fire for her failure to speak up for the Rohingya. She recently caused uproar by using the incendiary term during a visit to Myanmar by America's top diplomat.
Religious tensions pose a challenge to the new government and to Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate once garlanded for her fight for rights for all.
Her party is dominated by ethnic Bamar Buddhists and did not field any Muslim MPs in the election last year that drove it to power.
Hardline monks -- known as the Ma Ba Tha -- are accused of stoking violence and tensions with hate speech.