By Wa Lone and Antoni Slodkowski
YANGON (Reuters) – A United Nations human rights investigator on Friday urged the Myanmar government led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to investigate last week’s mob attack on a mosque and crack down on religious violence.
In one of the most serious outbursts of inter-religious violence in months, a group of men from a village in central Myanmar last week destroyed a mosque in a dispute over its construction and beat up a Muslim man.
In a separate incident on Friday, Buddhists burned down a Muslim prayer hall in northern Kachin State, police said.
The attacks underscore the challenges Suu Kyi faces as she deals with the legacy of decades of direct junta rule and bitter religious and ethnic divisions.
Religious tensions have simmered in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for almost half a century of military rule, before boiling over in 2012 into clashes between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. Violence between Muslims and Buddhists in other parts of the country followed in 2013 and 2014.
Yanghee Lee, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, said she was concerned by reports that the government would not investigate last week’s attack on the mosque.
“This is precisely the wrong signal to send. The government must demonstrate that instigating and committing violence against ethnic or religious minorities has no place in Myanmar,” said Lee at the end of a 12-day visit to the country.
Incidents of hate speech, discrimination, hatred, violence and religious intolerance were a cause for concern, she said.
“The incident can be seen as an attack on the past, present and future of one community. It is vital that the government takes action, including by conducting a thorough investigation and holding perpetrators to account,” she said.
As she was speaking on Friday, local police and members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy said villagers in Kachin State burned down a Muslim prayer hall after a dispute over its location.
“We tried to negotiate between them to avoid this growing into a serious conflict, but no one could stop them,” said Tin Soe, NLD member of parliament from the area.
He said the mob attacked police officers guarding the site and stopped the fire engine from reaching it.
Police have not arrested anyone involved.
“We will take action on this case according to the law, but we need to follow instructions from above,” police major Kyaw Zaw Oo from a local police station told Reuters by telephone.
It was “wake up time” for the government, Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said. He said the government must “make it clear that all extremists instigating religious-based violence will face the maximum penalty under law.”
(Additional reporting by Timothy McLaughlin and Soe Zeya Tun; Editing by Janet Lawrence)