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Troops flood tense Myanmar town after riots

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Security forces patrolled the riot-scarred streets of a town in eastern Myanmar Thursday after a fresh outbreak of religious violence that left one dead and several wounded.

Soldiers were out in force across Lashio in Shan state as authorities sought to stamp out the bloody unrest -- the latest in a series of clashes across the country that have proved a major challenge for the reformist government.

"The military is now taking responsibility for security here," local information ministry official Nang Hsai Li Kham told AFP, adding that the situation was now "peaceful" after two days of violence.

"There were some people going around the town with knives and sticks on motorbikes yesterday. But there is no such thing today... Security forces are being deployed on every corner."

Some shops have reopened and the town appeared calm early Thursday, according to an AFP reporter.

One person was killed and five injured in fighting between Muslims and Buddhists that saw a mosque and orphanage torched and stick-wielding mobs roaming the streets threatening Muslims.

Three religious buildings, dozens of shops and several homes were torched during the fighting, according to the state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

It said the spark for the unrest -- an attack on a Buddhist woman on Tuesday -- was a criminal act, not a religious matter, and that authorities were urging people not to allow it to turn into a "religious conflict".

Nine people have so far been arrested over the unrest, according to the Myanmar Police Force, which said late Wednesday that police and the army were working together to quell the violence.

Several episodes of religious fighting have exposed deep rifts in the Buddhist-majority country and cast a shadow over widely praised political reforms since military rule ended two years ago.

The sectarian strife has triggered international alarm. US President Barack Obama last week voiced "deep concern" about anti-Muslim attacks, during a landmark visit to Washington by President Thein Sein.

Security forces have been accused of being slow to react -- or even complicit -- in the unrest, which has mostly targeted Muslims.

A 48-year-old Muslim man has been arrested over Tuesday's attack on a 24-year-old Buddhist woman, who suffered burns but was not in serious condition, according to state media, who described the alleged attacker as a drug addict.

In March at least 44 people were killed in sectarian strife in central Myanmar with thousands of homes set ablaze.

Some monks -- who were among the most vocal pro-democracy supporters during Myanmar's repressive junta era -- have been involved in the violence, while others are spearheading a move to boycott shops owned by Muslims.

Communal unrest last year in the western state of Rakhine left about 200 people dead and displaced up to 140,000 people, mainly Rohingya Muslims.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130530/troops-flood-tense-myanmar-town-after-riots