Myanmar police uncover religious bomb plot

Myanmar police uncover religious bomb plot

Yangon (AFP) - Myanmar police said Wednesday they had arrested three people suspected of planning bomb attacks on mosques, as the country grapples with religious tensions after waves of anti-Muslim violence.

The suspects are all Buddhist men from the western state of Rakhine, where two bouts of unrest last year left scores dead and 140,000 displaced, mainly Rohingya Muslims.

"They were planning to plant bombs at mosques, after attending training on the border in Karen state," a police official in Yangon told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to the country's eastern frontier.

He said authorities were continuing to investigate the "ongoing case".

Myanmar remains tense after eruptions of religious conflict that have killed about 250 people and cast a shadow over much-praised political reforms.

A report in the state-run New Light of Myanmar Wednesday said an initial raid on a guesthouse in the Yangon area found one 34-year-old suspect "red-handed making bombs with gunpowder and related materials" on November 13.

It said further investigations led police to arrest two more suspects, aged 31 and 28, early Saturday.

The English-language newspaper said one of the men had received training on the border and had received "two ready-to-use" mines and a pack of gunpowder.

It said the intended target was "religious buildings" and police were still hunting further suspects.

Myanmar was rattled by a series of explosions in October that the United States denounced as "acts of terror", including one at the luxury Traders Hotel in Yangon that injured an American woman.

No group claimed responsibility but authorities said suspects arrested at the time were linked to ethnic Karen rebels.

There were outbreaks of unrest in Rakhine in June and October 2012, with fighting largely between local Buddhists and the Rohingya minority. Clashes were reported in other areas.

The US embassy in Yangon expressed concern over separate reports of renewed violence in Rakhine, including "the destruction of a mosque and threats against residents of camps sheltering internally displaced persons" in the coastal town of Kyauk Phyu.

The US "strongly condemns such acts of violence and intimidation," it said in a statement late Wednesday.

Last week the arrival of a delegation from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation for a tour of the country, including Rakhine, sparked protests led by Buddhist monks.

Humanitarian workers have faced threats and harassment for trying to help in Muslim camps.

Radical monks have been accused of fuelling the violence with anti-Muslim rhetoric, while witnesses to violence in central Myanmar in March said some attackers were dressed in clerical robes.

Myanmar views its population of about 800,000 Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.

They are considered by the United Nations to be one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar, with many paying smugglers for passage on rickety and overcrowded boats to Malaysia or further south. Hundreds are believed to have perished at sea so far this year.