Religious tensions rise in Meiktila after displaced Muslims barred from returning home

Religious tensions rose again in Meiktila over the weekend after local Buddhists reportedly blocked a group of Muslims – displaced following intercommunal riots in 2013 – from returning to their former homes.

According to the BBC’s Burmese service, an angry crowd greeted Muslims from two communities who tried to enter their old houses after authorities in charge of their temporary accommodation threatened them with prosecution for ‘squatting’.

Aung Thein, a local interfaith leader with an organization named Htilar Thukha, said an administrator had visited displaced people living in a sports stadium and Chan Aye Thar Yar quarter last month, telling them to leave.

Thousands of people were left homeless after anti-Muslim riots claimed at least 40 lives in the central Myanmar town in March 2013. The violence started after a row between the Muslim owner of a gold shop and his Buddhist client triggered the killing of a monk.

Over two days, rioters in Meiktila looted and destroyed Muslim homes, businesses and mosques. A group of 20 Muslim children were slaughtered in a school. Scores sought shelter in places that were supposed to serve as temporary accommodation, including the abandoned sports stadium.

But even after the violence ended, landlords refused to let Muslim families return home, community leaders told CNN last year. “We feel like bloodless ethnic cleansing is underway,” Aung Thein told the broadcaster.

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