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Buddhists convicted of Muslim massacre in Myanmar

By Ramy Inocencio and Phyo Wai Lin
updated 5:22 AM EDT, Fri July 12, 2013
Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar, where violence between Muslims and Buddhists left 43 dead in March 2013.
Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar, where violence between Muslims and Buddhists left 43 dead in March 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Myanmar convicts 22 Buddhists for anti-Muslim violence, bloodshed in March
  • At least 43 people died, thousands displaces in central city of Meiktila
  • Riots began March 20, lasted for three days, until state of emergency declared
  • Myanmar, also known as Burma, is on path of democratic, economic reform

(CNN) -- Myanmar's courts convicted 22 Buddhists this week for sparking anti-Muslim violence and bloodshed in March, according to a state-run newspaper.

At least 43 people died and thousands more were displaced as a result of violence in the city of Meiktila, in central Myanmar, with the Muslim population sustaining the bulk of the casualties.

Those convicted this week received prison terms ranging from one to ten years in prison, including hard labor, the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported.

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Anti-Muslim sectarian attacks in Meiktila began March 20, reportedly after an argument between a Muslim gold shop owner and two Buddhist sellers. The wave of violence that swept the city included beatings, arson and immolations. Many Muslims claimed local police took no action to stop the riots.

After three days, President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency, allowing the military to enter the city and restore order.

Sein said the government did not intervene immediately in order to avoid endangering the country's "ongoing democratic transition and reform efforts."

"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.

This week's convictions continue to highlight 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.

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