YANGON, Myanmar — New sectarian violence flared Tuesday in northeastern Myanmar, with a mob burning some shops after unconfirmed rumors spread that a Muslim man had set fire to a Buddhist woman.
The extent of the violence was unclear, as the area is remote and it was difficult to reach officials at night. Unconfirmed reports on Muslim news websites said a large mosque and a Muslim orphanage had been burned down.
The spread of such unrest to a new region of the country will reinforce doubts that the government of reformist President Thein Sein has the will or capacity to contain the deadly religious violence, which began last year in western Myanmar.
A politician in Lashio in Shan state, Sai Myint Maung, said authorities banned gatherings of more than five people after about 150 massed outside a police station demanding that the alleged culprit be handed over. The mob also burned some stores, he said.
According to the rumors, the man doused the woman with gasoline and set her alight. Police could not be reached for comment, and it was not possible to confirm whether the rumors were true.
Another resident who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals confirmed by phone that some shops were burned near the police station and the hospital where the victim was said to have been taken. A Lashio resident, Than Htay, said he could see smoke and had heard about the ban on gatherings. He said calm had been restored.
However, the website of the Muslim-oriented M-media Group said Lashio’s biggest mosque had been torched by a mob while firefighters stood by, and a Muslim school and orphanage was also burned down. It did not say if there were any casualties. Its report acknowledged the burning of the woman but said the perpetrator was not a Muslim.
While the website’s account could not immediately be confirmed, it has provided more details earlier than other Myanmar media in reports earlier this year of violence against Muslims elsewhere in the country. Several photos circulating on Facebook also showed what was purported to be the mosque in flames.
Stopping the spread of sectarian violence has proven a major challenge for Thein Sein’s government since it erupted in western Rakhine state last year, when clashes between Buddhist and Muslims left hundreds dead and drove about 140,000, mostly Muslims, from their homes. The violence had seemed confined to that region, but in late March, similar Buddhist-led violence swept the town of Meikthila in central Myanmar, killing at least 43 people.
Several other towns in central Myanmar experienced less deadly violence, mostly involving the torching of shops and mosques.
Muslims account for about 4 percent of the nation’s roughly 60 million people. It is politically risky to speak out on their behalf because anti-Muslim sentiment is closely tied to nationalism and the dominant Buddhist religion.