Skip to main content

Myanmar's president: 'Instigators' escalated private dispute into violence

From Kocha Olarn, CNN
updated 11:48 AM EDT, Thu March 28, 2013
A heavily damaged mosque in is shown Thursday in the Myanmar town of Gyobingauk, in Bago division.
A heavily damaged mosque in is shown Thursday in the Myanmar town of Gyobingauk, in Bago division.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Myanmar's president speaks for the first time since declaring state of emergency
  • He blames "instigators" for trying to spread violence
  • At least 40 people were killed last week in sectarian violence

(CNN) -- A state of emergency in Myanmar was put in place to stop "attempts by a small number of people to spread ... violence to other parts of the country," President Thein Sein said Thursday.

In his first speech since making the emergency declaration last week in response to clashes between Buddhists and Muslims, he accused "instigators" of escalating a private dispute into sectarian violence that killed at least 40 people last week.

"We did not resort to the use of force immediately mainly because we do not want any possible endangerment of our ongoing democratic transition and reform efforts," the president said. "That said, I am firmly committed to use the power vested in me by the constitution to deploy our security forces and to use existing laws to prevent and protect the life, liberty and security of my fellow citizens."

READ: Tensions persist between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar

Deadly ethnic unrest spreads in Myanmar

The president said some were exploiting the situation to engineer violence in other parts of the country.

"I would like to warn all political opportunists and religious extremists who try to exploit the noble teachings of these religions and have tried to plant hatred among people of different faiths for their own self-interest: Their efforts will not be tolerated," he said.

READ: Myanmar police fire rubber bullets at rioters

During the clashes in Meiktila, which were reportedly set off by a dispute between a Muslim gold shop owner and two Buddhist sellers, rioters set fire to houses, schools and mosques, prompting thousands of residents to flee their homes.

The government declared a state of emergency in the city Friday, allowing the military to help reinstate order. But as the situation there appeared to calm, authorities reported arson attacks by groups of Buddhists in other towns in the region over the weekend.

One group, the Myanmar Islamic Religious Organization, blamed the government for the loss of lives.

"It is analyzed that loss of Muslims' lives and properties, mosques and religious schools in this way are due to weakness and omission of administrative authorities to provide protection and take action effectively," the organization said in a statement.

The unrest highlights the fragility of ethnic relations in Myanmar, also known as Burma, as it emerges from decades of military repression. Authorities have released thousands of political prisoners and pursued peace talks with rebel groups in the past two years.

The clashes in Meiktila and elsewhere have drawn expressions of concern from U.N. and U.S. officials.

The sudden boiling over of tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in central Myanmar follows sectarian troubles that killed scores of people in the western part of the country last year.

Those clashes, in Rakhine state, took place between the Buddhist majority and the Rohingya, a stateless ethnic Muslim group.

CNN's Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
updated 4:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
updated 2:45 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
updated 8:24 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
It's a very big challenge but NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan thinks it can be done.
updated 7:39 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert explains how the most recent ISIS video differs from the other previous hostage execution videos.
updated 12:38 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
A Syrian cleric condemns ISIS and its execution of U.S. hostage Peter Kassig.
updated 12:20 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Volunteer fighters in eastern Ukraine dig down just 800 meters from the front line.
updated 12:29 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
TV anchor wears the same suit for a year. Female colleague wears new outfit daily. Who gets criticized?
updated 7:04 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT