Buddhist protesters in Myanmar threw petrol bombs to try and block an aid shipment to Muslims in Rakhine State, where the United Nations has accused the country’s military of ethnic cleansing.
The incident on Wednesday, ended when police fired in the air to disperse the protesters, reflected rising communal animosity and came during an official visit by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy.
Murphy said later, after talks with government leaders, that Washington was alarmed by reports of rights abuses and called on authorities to stop the violence, which raised concern about Myanmar’s transition from military rule to democracy.
Myanmar’s army chief on Thursday called for internally displaced non-Muslims to go home.
In a speech on his plans for Rakhine State while on his first visit there since strife erupted, he made no mention of the estimated 422,000 Rohingya Muslims who have crossed the border into Bangladesh.
They have fled Myanmar to escape a sweeping counter-insurgency operation by his army in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents on August 25.
Hundreds of protesters were involved in the attempt to stop Red Cross workers loading a boat with relief supplies bound for the north of Rakhine State, where the insurgent attacks last month triggered the military backlash.
The boat being was loaded with aid at a dock in the state capital of Sittwe, a government information office said.
“People thought the aid was only for the Bengalis,” the secretary of the state government, Tin Maung Swe, told Reuters, using a term that Rohingya find offensive.
Protesters threw petrol bombs and about 200 police eventually dispersed them by shooting into the air, a witness and the government information office said.
The witness said he saw some injured people.
Eight people were detained, the office said.
No aid workers were hurt, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said.