YANGON - Police fired rubber bullets to break up a mob which stoned the home of a Muslim butcher in central Myanmar, authorities said, as religious tensions rise amid a surge of violence in the west.

The mob attack on Sunday night in the Magway region of the mainly Buddhist nation was fuelled by anger over the deepening crisis in the western state of Rakhine, according to a government press release.

Rakhine has been gripped by violence since militants attacked security forces in late August, triggering brutal army reprisals that have left hundreds dead and pushed nearly 300,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh.

The exodus accounts for nearly a third of Myanmar’s Rohingya population, creating a humanitarian emergency as a flood of famished and wounded refugees pour into Bangladesh’s already overcrowded camps.

The fighting has also pushed some 27,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Hindus to flee their homes in northern Rakhine.

The conflict, marked by competing accusations from different ethnic groups, has intensified long-running mistrust between Myanmar’s Buddhists and its maligned Muslim minority.

Those tensions bubbled over in Taung Twin Gyi township on Sunday when dozens of villagers in a 400-strong crowd sang the national anthem and lobbed rocks at the home of a Muslim butcher before marching over to the local mosque, where police dispersed the mob.

Police arrested one man, 30-year-old Hnin Ko Ko Lin, who said the group acted because “they could not accept the things that happened in Rakhine”, according to the government statement.

Min Thein, a lower house MP for the township, confirmed yesterday that the butcher was Muslim.

“Now we are urging all the people to stay calm and we have already told the Muslim residents to stay in their homes,” he added.

Tensions between Buddhists and Muslims have simmered in Myanmar since 2012 when sectarian violence erupted in Rakhine, leaving hundreds dead and pushing more than 100,000 Rohingya into decrepit camps.

The country’s new civilian government, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is desperate to avoid a repeat of anti-Muslim riots that swept through central Myan­mar in 2013, leaving scores dead.

Analysts say years of state-backed repression contributed to the emergence last year of the Rohingya militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, whose attacks have triggered the worst violence to engulf the region in years. — AFP

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