YANGON, Myanmar — Night can be very dark in Yangon, a city where street lamps, when there are any, flicker on and off with the uneven electricity supply. For a group of Muslim men guarding their neighborhood until dawn, it is never clear what is lurking down the potholed roads and alleyways.
“The government cannot guarantee our safety,” said U Nyi Nyi, a businessman who sat on a plastic chair with a half-dozen of the 130 men he has organized for an improvised Muslim neighborhood watch program.
After decades of peaceful coexistence with the Buddhist majority in the country, Muslims say they now constantly fear the next attack. Over the past year, they say several violent episodes across the country led by rampaging Buddhist mobs have taught them that if violence comes to their neighborhood, they are on their own.
“I don’t think the police will protect us,” Mr. Nyi Nyi said.
The neighborhood watch program, a motley corps of men who check for any suspicious outsiders and keep wooden clubs and metal rods stashed nearby, is a symbol of how much relations have deteriorated between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
About 90 percent of the country’s population of 55 million is Buddhist, with Muslims making up 4 to 8 percent.