YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar has sentenced two Buddhist men to seven years in prison for murders during religious violence in March that left dozens of people dead, a local official said.
The defendants were convicted after separate trials at the district court in Meiktila for their part in deadly rioting in the town, which mainly targeted Muslims and sparked waves of religious unrest across the country.
Meiktila district chairman of Tin Maung Soe said one man, aged 24, was sentenced on June 28, becoming the first Buddhist known to be sentenced for a serious offence over the rioting, which left at least 44 people dead.
"He was found at the scene where some people were killed during the unrest in Meiktila. That is why he was charged with murder," he told AFP.
He said the second suspect, aged 21, was handed sentences of seven years and one year with hard labour -- to be served concurrently -- on Friday for his part in the killings.
Thousands of local Muslims were driven from their homes during the violence, as Buddhist mobs torched whole neighbourhoods, destroyed shops and damaged mosques.
Human rights groups have accused the police of being slow to stop the killings, while activists have called on authorities to fully investigate and prosecute those responsible.
At least 10 Muslims have so far been handed jail terms for serious offences during the rioting.
In May seven Muslims were sentenced to between two and 28 years for their parts in the murder of a Buddhist monk in Meiktila during the unrest.
The violence was apparently initially triggered by a quarrel in a gold shop and three Muslims, including the business owner, were jailed for 14 years in April for assaulting a Buddhist customer.
State media recently said 49 people were on trial for murder, with scores more facing court for their roles in the unrest.
"The other cases are still ongoing and still under investigation," Tin Maung Soe told AFP.