YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar has jailed seven men for lynching 10 Muslim bus passengers in an attack that sparked mass unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine two years ago, authorities said Tuesday.
The men were each given seven years in jail by Thandwe county court for the murders, which saw the passengers dragged from the vehicle and killed by a mob, an official from the town’s administrative office said.
“I do not know whether they were Buddhists or not but they are the ones who committed the crime,” he told AFP, asking not to be named.
The Myanmar official said all the convicted men were residents of Taunggote, where ethnic Rakhines – who are mostly Buddhist – attacked the bus on June 3, 2012.
The apparent trigger for the attack was the rape and murder of a Rakhine girl a few days earlier in Thandwe district, allegedly by Muslims.
Violence between Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims spread quickly across Rakhine, as long-held resentments in the impoverished region exploded into two major bouts of bloodshed.
More than 200 people were killed and 140,000 left homeless, mostly Muslims, as armed mobs torched villages.
Tens of thousands of Muslims are still trapped in squalid displacement camps, with little access to health care, after international aid groups were targeted by Buddhist nationalists earlier this year.
The Arakan Project activist group this week said the exodus of Rohingya from Rakhine had reached an “unprecedented” scale, with some 10,000 people fleeing in boats from northwestern Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh in the last two weeks alone.
The boats, many barely seaworthy, head to Thailand, Malaysia and beyond in an increasingly organised smuggling network that has transported an estimated 100,000 people across the Bay of Bengal since the June 2012 violence.
Myanmar views the Rohingya as immigrants from Bangladesh and denies most of them citizenship.