By Jason Szep
MEIKHTILA, Myanmar | Mon Apr 8, 2013 7:07am EDT
(Reuters) – The Buddhist monk grabbed a young Muslim girl and put a knife to her neck.
“If you follow us, I’ll kill her,” the monk taunted police, according to a witness, as a Buddhist mob armed with machetes and swords chased nearly 100 Muslims in this city in central Myanmar.
It was Thursday, March 21. Within hours, up to 25 Muslims had been killed. The Buddhist mob dragged their bloodied bodies up a hill in a neighborhood called Mingalarzay Yone and set the corpses on fire. Some were found butchered in a reedy swamp. A Reuters cameraman saw the charred remains of two children, aged 10 or younger.
Ethnic hatred has been unleashed in Myanmar since 49 years of military rule ended in March 2011. And it is spreading, threatening the country’s historic democratic transition. Signs have emerged of ethnic cleansing, and of impunity for those inciting it.
Over four days, at least 43 people were killed in this dusty city of 100,000, just 80 miles north of the capital of Naypyitaw. Nearly 13,000 people, mostly Muslims, were driven from their homes and businesses. The bloodshed here was followed by Buddhist-led mob violence in at least 14 other villages in Myanmar’s central heartlands and put the Muslim minority on edge across one of Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries.
An examination of the riots, based on interviews with more than 30 witnesses, reveals the dawn massacre of 25 Muslims in Meikhtila was led by Buddhist monks – often held up as icons of democracy in Myanmar. The killings took place in plain view of police, with no intervention by the local or central government. Graffiti scrawled on one wall called for a “Muslim extermination.”