In an effort to stem the violence, the government has declared a state of emergency and deployed troops in the worst-hit areas.
The UN’s human rights envoy to the country, Tomas Ojea Quintana, has said the reluctance of security forces to crack down on the unrest suggests a possible state link to the fighting — comments rejected by Myanmar.
On Thursday, Burmese President Thein Sein appeared on national television to address the nation, warning unidentified “political opportunists and religious extremists” that their actions “will not be tolerated.”
It was a “courageous” speech, according to independent analyst Mael Raynaud.
“A Myanmar president addressing the nation directly and talking about religious extremism clearly aimed at Buddhist monks — that’s never been seen before,” he said.
In contrast, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who many believe has her sights set firmly on the next election in 2015, has not yet spoken publicly about the recent clashes.
“Now is the time for political leaders to rise to the challenge of shaping public opinion, rather than just following it,” Della-Giacomo said, adding: Suu Kyi “must be prepared to vocally and unambiguously take the side of peace and tolerance.”