A mob has burnt down a mosque in northern Myanmar, the second such attack in just over a week. The rising tensions between the majority Buddhist community and the Muslim minority pose a challenge to the new government.
Villagers in the town of Hpakant in Myanmar's northern Kachin state ransacked a mosque on Friday before setting it on fire, according to the state-run "Global New Light of Myanmar" newspaper.
Some 500 people gathered outside the mosque late Friday, many of them welding sticks, knives and other weapons and demanding that the security forces allow them to raze the Muslims' place of worship.
According to local officials, the mosque administration failed to meet a June 30 deadline to raze the structure to make way for a bridge.
"Some parts of the mosque were set on fire by the mob," a local police officer said on condition of anonymity.
"When about 150 people forcibly entered the mosque compound, we could no longer control the situation," he added.
The "Global New Light of Myanmar" newspaper said no arrests had been made.
Ma Ba Tha, a Buddhist nationalist group, accused the village's Muslim residents of building the mosque without permission from the authorities.
But Thein Aung, chairman of the mosque's caretaker group, claims the structure was built more than 20 years ago.
Recurring Muslim-Buddhist tension
It was the second attack on a mosque in over a week. On June 23, a Buddhist mob targeted a mosque and other religious buildings in a Muslim-dominated village in the Bago region, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) southeast of Yangon. The attack left a Muslim man injured and forced the minority community to seek refuge in a neighboring town.
Myanmar's government has so far refused to grant citizenship to the country's Rohingya Muslims. It views the 1.1 million people as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. An estimated 140,000 people - mostly Rohingyas - have been living in camps in Rakhine since violent clashes broke out between the majority Buddhists and Rohingyas in 2012.
The calls are getting louder for Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's Nobel peace laureate and the de facto leader of the country, to respond to the current crisis involving the marginalized Rohingya Muslims. Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), have criticized Suu Kyi's silence on the unfolding Rohingya crisis.
The renewed tensions are likely to put more pressure on the government headed by the National League for Democracy, of which Suu Kyi is president.
"There was much hope that democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi would change the situation and work for a more inclusive political culture. But the Nobel laureate has surprised political observers by maintaining a disturbing silence regarding the plight of the Rohingyas," Siegfried O. Wolf, a researcher at the University of Heidelberg's South Asia Institute, told DW.
"I think that substantial reforms in the country's electoral system might help the minorities, but the majority groups will resist any such move," he added.
HRW has called on the government to bring the anti-Muslim attackers to justice to prevent similar attacks in the future.
"The government needs to recognize that the only way to preserve freedom of religion is to make clear that all extremists instigating religious-based violence will face the maximum penalty under law," HRW's deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson told the DPA new agency.
Calls for equal rights
On a visit to Myanmar in 2014, US President Barack Obama had called on the Burmese authorities to give equal rights to Rohingya Muslims.
The UN classifies the group - which has been living in Myanmar for many generations - as one of the world's most vulnerable stateless populations.
According to the UN, at least 86,000 Rohingyas fled the country between 2012 and 2014. Many of them travel to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, where they often get deported or fall prey to human traffickers.