Myanmar authorities 'not behind' religious unrest

Myanmar's government and army were not behind recent outbreaks of deadly religious violence, the president's spokesman said Friday, amid accusations that security forces stood by -- or were even complicit -- in the clashes.

Sectarian bloodshed, mostly targeting Muslims, has laid bare deep divides that were largely suppressed under decades of military rule which ended two years ago in the Buddhist-majority country.

Rights groups have criticised the police and army for failing to stop mobs attacking mainly Muslim neighbourhoods in two separate flare-ups of unrest in western and central Myanmar.

The speed of the destruction, coupled with eyewitness reports of investigators arriving to spark violence, also led to speculation it was organised by elements within Myanmar's military intent on disrupting the reform process.

"There has been some speculation about who is behind the conflict," said president's office spokesman Ye Htut.

"However, I would like to say firmly, at this point, that it's completely false that the government is behind this and that the military carried out what happened," he said.

"In reality the first ones who get the headache of solving the problem are the government and the military."

Monks have also been accused of involvement in the clashes. Eyewitnesses have said people dressed in monks' robes were among angry mobs who destroyed houses and mosques.

Radical monks have led a campaign to shun shops owned by Muslims, but senior monks have accused foreign media of one-sided reporting of the Buddhist-Muslim conflict.

Speaking at a US Embassy event on the tensions, Ye Htut said that sweeping economic and political reforms were for the benefit of the whole country.

"There is no reason to leave a certain group or a religion or a ethnic group behind... as long as we leave someone behind in a human society our problems can never be solved."

In March at least 44 people were killed in sectarian strife in central Myanmar and thousands of homes were set ablaze. Communal unrest last year in the western state of Rakhine left about 200 people dead and 140,000 displaced, mainly Rohingya Muslims.