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Religious unrest in northeast Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar -- New sectarian violence flared yesterday 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.

Sai Myint Maung, a politician in Lashio in Shan state, 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.

Stopping the spread of sectarian violence has proved a major challenge for Thein Sein's government since it erupted last year, when clashes between Buddhist and Muslims left hundreds dead.

-- AP

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