YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government on Saturday rejected remarks by a U.N. human rights official suggesting that the authorities bear some blame for recent mob attacks by Buddhists on minority Muslims that killed dozens of people.
The U.N. official, Tomas Ojea Quintana, urged Myanmar's government on Friday to investigate allegations that security forces watched as Buddhist mobs attacked Muslims. He also said the government needed to do more to protect the country's Muslims.
Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut said on his Facebook page Saturday that he "strongly rejected" the comments by Quintana, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar.
Ye Htut, who is also the presidential spokesman, wrote that it was "saddening that Mr. Quintana made his comments based on hearsay without assessing the situation on the ground."
He added that such remarks amounted to ignoring efforts by the government, security personnel, religious leaders and civil society organizations trying to restore order.
State television announced Saturday that President Thein Sein had formed a 10-member State of Emergency management central committee to control the ongoing violence.
The committee will expose and detain those who instigated the violence, and seek ways to prevent recurrence of racial and religious conflicts, and enable rapid response in times of conflict and better coordination between security forces.
The formation of committees to investigate unrest has become a minor hallmark of Thein Sein's government, but there is little sign they have been able to solve any problems, or even serve as a pressure valve because of the polarizations in society.
The state-run Kyemon newspaper said Saturday that 43 people had died and 86 were injured since rioting first flared on March 20 in the central town of Meikhtila. It said there were 163 incidents of violence in 15 townships in the country, with 1,355 buildings damaged or destroyed.
It reported that a few attacks against "religious buildings," shops and houses continued Friday, a day after President Thein Sein declared that his government would use force if necessary to quell the rioting, which was sparked by a dispute between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers.