ANTI-MUSLIM VIOLENCE IN MYANMAR
The death of 48 people, most of them Muslim Rohingya, in Du Chee Yar Tan, a village in northern Rakhine state in January 2014, brings the total number of mostly Muslims killed in violence nationwide to more than 280 since it started in June 2012. Another 250,000 people have fled their homes.
Myanmar's Muslims -- of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent -- account for an estimated four percent of the roughly 60 million population, although the country has not conducted a census in three decades. Nasty violence against Muslims broke out in 2012. Violence carried out by Buddhists against Muslims was worse in 2013 than 2012.
According to Associated Press: Occasional isolated violence involving Myanmar's majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities has occurred for decades. Under the military governments that ruled Myanmar from 1962 until 2011, ethnic and religious unrest was typically hushed up, an approach made easier in pre-Internet days, when there was a state monopoly on daily newspapers, radio and television, backed by tough censorship of other media. [Source: AP, March 22, 2013 **]
“But since an elected, though still military-backed, government took power in 2011, people have been using the Internet and social media in increasing numbers, and the press has been unshackled, with censorship mostly dropped and privately owned daily newspapers expected to hit the streets in the next few months. *
According to Associated Press: Analysts say the emergence of sectarian conflict here is a worrying development, one that indicates violent anti-Muslim sentiment has spread unabated into the country's heartland. The bloodshed "shows that inter-communal tensions in Myanmar are not just limited to the Rakhine and Rohingya in northern Rakhine state," said Jim Della-Giacoma of the International Crisis Group. "Myanmar is a country with dozens of localized fault lines and grievances that were papered over during the authoritarian years that we are just beginning to see and understand. It is a paradox of transitions that greater freedom does allows these local conflicts to resurface." "If a democratic state is the nation's goal, they need to find a place for all its people as equal citizens," Della-Giacoma said. "Given the country's history, it won't be easy." [Source: Associated Press, March 25, 2013]
Rohingya Violence Grows Into Anti-Muslim Violence
Todd Pitman of Associated Press wrote: “Myanmar's sectarian violence first flared in western Rakhine state last year, when hundreds of people died in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims that drove about 140,000 others, mostly Muslims, from their homes. The clashes seemed confined to that region, but in late March, similar Buddhist-led violence swept the town of Meikthila in central Myanmar, killing at least 43 people. Earlier this month, a court sentenced seven Muslims from Meikthila to prison terms for their role in the violence. Several other towns in central Myanmar experienced less deadly violence, mostly involving the torching of Muslim businesses and mosques. [Source: Todd Pitman, Associated Press, May 29, 2013]
Kate Linthicum wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The conflict began here in Rakhine state in 2012 when three Rohingya men were convicted of the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman. A mob of Buddhists pulled 10 Muslims off a bus and beat them to death. Muslims in another part of the state soon attacked Buddhist villagers. It was then, according to human rights investigations, that a two-sided flare-up of community tension turned into a one-sided campaign aimed at expelling the long-marginalized Rohingya, whom the United Nations has called one of the world's most persecuted minorities. Hundreds were killed in a series of coordinated attacks, sometimes undertaken with the help of local security forces, according to Human Rights Watch. Pamphlets distributed by monks and political leaders urged Buddhists to isolate the Muslims, calling for "ethnic cleansing." [Source: Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2013]
In March 2013 at least 44 people were killed in sectarian strife in central Burma with thousands of homes set ablaze. Linthicum wrote “In Meiktila, a college town in central Myanmar, a dispute this spring at a gold shop morphed into a three-day anti-Muslim riot in which 100 people were killed. Muslims say they were forced to eat pork and to pray Buddhist-style during the siege. Similar violence has played out in more than a dozen other towns. Across the country, Muslim men have started guarding mosques overnight in case of attack. In Meiktila, about 1,000 Muslims who used to reside downtown now live surrounded by razor wire on the campus of an Islamic university.
Forty-Four Die in Muslim Riots in Meikhtila, Myanmar
In late March 2013, at least 43 people were killed and 12,000 displaced during several days of unrest in the central Myanmar. The violence began the town of Meikhtila, where anarchy raged as Buddhist mobs rampaged through the town and police stood idly by. Meikhtila burned for days, with entire Muslim quarters razed by Buddhist mobs after a monk was killed by Muslims. The violence started after a dispute between a Muslim gold shop owner and several Buddhist customers.
Associated Press reported: Buddhist mobs torched Mingalar Zayone Islamic boarding school, Muslim firms and all but one of the city's 13 mosques after a row between a Muslim and a Buddhist at a gold shop and the burning to death of a Buddhist monk by four Muslim men. While security forces stood by, a mob armed with machetes, metal pipes, chains and stones killed 32 teenage students and four teachers. Video clips online showed mobs clubbing students to death and cheering as flames leapt from corpses. [Source: Associated Press, July 11, 2013]
Immediately after the attacks Associated Press reported: “Myanmar's president declared a state of emergency in a central city shaken by sectarian bloodshed that has killed at least 20 people, as thousands of minority Muslims fled and overwhelmed riot police crisscrossed the still-burning town seizing machetes and hammers from enraged Buddhist mobs. Black smoke and flames poured from destroyed buildings in Meikhtila, where the unrest between local Buddhist and Muslim residents erupted Wednesday – the latest challenge to Myanmar's ever-precarious transition to democratic rule. [Source: AP, March 22, 2013 *]
“Little appeared to be left of some palm tree-lined neighborhoods, where whole plots were reduced to smoldering masses of twisted debris and ash. Broken glass, destroyed motorcycles and overturned tables littered roads beside rows of burnt-out homes and shops, evidence of the widespread chaos of the last two days. It was not immediately clear which side bore the brunt of the latest violence, but terrified Muslims, who make about 30 percent of Meikhtila's 100,000 inhabitants, stayed off the streets Friday as their shops and homes continued to burn and angry Buddhist residents and monks prevented authorities from putting out the blazes. *
“Trucks of police stood guard outside the blackened, empty hulk of one aqua-colored mosque, one of at least five torched this week by Buddhist gangs. Win Htein, a local lawmaker from the opposition National League for Democracy, said he had counted at least 20 bodies. State radio released the official totals for casualties and destruction, which normally lag behind the actual figures. It said there were 11 deaths and 39 injuries, and 152 houses, 13 religious buildings, a government office and five vehicles were damaged. No breakdown by religious group was given. *
“Win Htein said 1,200 Muslim families – at least 6,000 people – have fled their homes and taken refuge at a stadium and a police station. An unknown number of Buddhists, meanwhile, sought refuge inside the city's shrines. "The situation is unpredictable and dangerous," said Sein Shwe, a shop owner. "We don't feel safe and we have now moved inside a monastery." *
“There was no apparent direct connection between the Meikhtila violence and that last year in Rakhine state. Rakhine Buddhists allege that Rohingya are mostly illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The Muslim population of Meikhtila is believed to be mostly of Indian origin, and although religious tensions are longstanding, the incident sparking the violence seemed to be a small and isolated dispute.” *
Meikhtila is a garrison city with a heavy military presence, located halfway between Mandalay and Naypyidaw, about 130 kilometers north of Naypyidaw,. Muslims are believed to make up as much as a third of the city’s 100,000 people. Human Rights Watch released satellite images which it said showed more than 800 buildings were totally destroyed in Meiktila, leaving several charred areas where homes and properties once stood. Later the unrest spread to several other towns, leaving 43 people dead and more than 1,300 homes and other buildings destroyed, according to state media Myanmar. According to the United Nations, about 12,000 people were displaced.
Among those killed in the riots was a Buddhist monk who was reportedly pulled off his motorbike, attacked and burned. The six men accused of attacking him were part of a larger group, and authorities are searching for four more men, Ye Aung Myint said.
Cause of the Muslim Riots in Meikhtila and Attack on Foreign Journalists
Associated Press reported: “The troubles in Meikhtila began after an argument broke out between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers on March 20. A Buddhist monk was among the first killed, inflaming tensions that led a Buddhist mob to rampage through a Muslim neighborhood. By two days later, clashes had ceased, but the city remained tense and police could be seen seizing knives, swords, hammers and sticks from young men in the streets and detaining scores of looters. [Source: AP, March 22, 2013 *]
Once news spread that a Muslim man had killed a Buddhist monk, Buddhist mobs rampaged through a Muslim neighborhood and the situation quickly spiraled out of control. Residents and activists said the police did little to stop the rioters or reacted too slowly, allowing the violence to escalate. [Source: Associated Press March 25, 2013]
“Monks accosted and threatened journalists trying to cover the unrest, at one point trying to drag a group of several out of a van. One monk, whose faced was covered, shoved a foot-long dagger at the neck of an Associated Press photographer and demanded his camera. The photographer defused the situation by handing over his camera's memory card. The group of nine journalists took refuge in a monastery and stayed there until a police unit was able to escort them to safety. *
State of Emergency Declared in Meikhtila
Associated Press reported: “In an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation, Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in Meikhtila in an announcement broadcast on state television. The declaration allows the military to take over administrative functions in and around the town. He also declared a state of emergency in three nearby townships, but there were no reports of violence there. The government of Thein Sein is constrained from using open force to quell unrest because it needs foreign approval in order to woo aid and investment. The previous military junta had no such compunctions about using force, and was ostracized by the international community for its human rights abuses. [Source: AP, March 22, 2013]
The Irrawaddy reported: “Burma’s government declared a state of emergency in Meikhtila on Friday afternoon as the central Burmese city was hit by a third day of clashes between Muslims and Buddhists. In announcing the move, state-run television said that “Local security forces and authorities have to seek military help to restore order effectively,” suggesting that the government would send in troops to quell the ongoing riots. [Source: The Irrawaddy, March 22, 2013 =]
Later, on state television, President U Thein Sein’s administration pledged to make "utmost efforts" to halt the violence and incitement of racial and religious unrest. "We also urge the people to avoid religious extremes and violence which could jeopardise the country's democratic reform and development," the announcement said. =
Evidence and Reports of Violence in Meikhtila
The Irrawaddy reported: “Photo evidence of widespread carnage is also emerging, with news media websites and social media sites such as Facebook posting pictures that show numerous charred bodies and whole neighborhoods on fire. Some local residents told The Irrawaddy that militant Buddhist monks and laymen went on a rampage through the city in Mandalay Division on Friday morning, destroying mosques and what they believed were Muslim-owned properties. “It’s as if they are destroying the town. The situation is now out of control,” said a Pauk Chaung quarter resident. In recent months there have been several reports of inter-communal clashes in other parts of Burma, but no one was reportedly killed in during these incidents. [Source: The Irrawaddy, March 22, 2013 =]
“Kay Oo May, the founder of Young Buddhists Association in Meikhtila, a local NGO, said she had been informed that 20 people were killed in recent days and that mosques throughout the town had been razed. “I learned that 12 Muslims and eight Buddhists are dead. I myself witnessed two dead bodies,” she said. “Five mosques, including the biggest one, were destroyed,” Kay Oo May said, adding that the Muslim quarter of Chan Aye was the most hard-hit.” =
The Myanmar Times reported: “Soldiers pulled eight more bodies from the wreckage of buildings in Meiktila, a city in central Myanmar, according to state-run media. The soldiers were clearing areas set aflame by anti-Muslim mobs during three days of rioting. [Source: Myanmar Times, March 26, 2013]
According to Associated Press: “At least five mosques were set ablaze from Wednesday to Friday. The majority of homes and shops burned in the city also belonged to Muslims, and most of the displaced are Muslim. Dozens of corpses were piled in the streets, some of them charred beyond recognition. Little appeared to be left of some palm tree-lined neighborhoods, where the legs of victims could be seen poking out from smoldering masses of twisted debris and ash. Broken glass, charred cars and motorcycles and overturned tables littered roads beside rows of burned-out homes and shops, evidence of the widespread chaos that swept the town. [Source: Associated Press, March 25, 2013]
Police Protection Offered in the Meikhtila Riots
The Irrawaddy reported: The Pauk Chaung quarter resident “said Muslim residents were seeking shelter at sites in Meikhtila where police could offer them some form of protection. “They [police] are standing guard over 800 Muslim people taking refuge at a football ground. Now I’ve heard that the ministers for internal affairs and religious affairs and the chief minister for Mandalay Division are here,” the Buddhist man said. However, police had little control over events, according to the resident. “Now we have nearly 30 truckloads of riot police here, but they can’t control the mob,” he said. “Instead they are trying to put out the fires.” [Source: The Irrawaddy, March 22, 2013 =]
“Thousands of Muslims have reportedly fled out of fear that they might be killed. The Irrawaddy’s reporter in Meikhtila observed police evacuating about 1,500 residents, mostly women and children, out of the city’s Chan Aye quarter to a makeshift refugee camp on the town’s outskirts. More than 2,000 Muslim refugees were gathered at the site. Earlier in the day, a senior officer at Meikhtila District Police Office told The Irrawaddy that riot police had begun seizing weapons from mobs and arresting anyone who was believed to be instigating unrest. “So far, we have arrested 20 people, rioters as well as looters, after we charged into a mob,” he said, without explaining why police only began such actions on the third day of the violence. =
“Win Htein, a National League for Democracy lawmaker from Meikhtila, said the police force had been woefully inept in dealing with the escalating inter-communal violence. “The security force doesn’t seem to have riot-control experience, so they don’t know how to react to the clashes,” he said. According to the opposition MP, the town had never experienced such visceral religious conflict before, adding that it was “disheartening” to see communities torn apart. =
Myanmar Police Failed to Stop Killing, Arson: Human Rights Watch
AFP reported: Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Myanmar to investigate the failure of police to stop a recent wave of Buddhist-Muslim killing and arson attacks. "The government should investigate responsibility for the violence in Meiktila and the failure of the police to stop wanton killings and the burning of entire neighbourhoods," said HRW Asia director Brad Adams. [Source: AFP, April 1, 2013 <>]
“The worst-hit areas in Meiktila are believed to be neighbourhoods once home to "a significant number of Muslims", said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson. The violence "was allowed to run for days on end", he told AFP. "There's been plenty of information that we found, and that others have reported, of essentially the police allowing it to go on and not intervening." HRW said the destruction bore similarities to sectarian unrest in a different area in western Myanmar last year that killed at least 180 people and left "large, clearly defined residential areas in ashes". <>
“Security forces have fired warning shots in some instances to disperse rioters, but they have also faced criticism from Muslim leaders in the Buddhist-dominated country for failing to stop attacks. President Thein Sein vowed a tough response against those behind the violence, which he attributed to "political opportunists and religious extremists". In a radio address on Sunday, the former general appealed to members of the Buddhist clergy to "assist the government in promoting peace and stability". Some monks were involved in the recent violence, according to witnesses, while others have spearheaded a move to shun shops owned by Muslims.” <>
Death Toll Exceeds 40 As Violence Spreads After the Muslim Riots in Meikhtila
On the day of the first reports of violence from Meikhtila, Associated Press reported: “There were indications, too, that the violence spread Friday to at least one village on the outskirts of Meikhtila, about 550 kilometers (340 miles) north of the main city of Yangon. Local activist Myint Myint Aye said fires were burning in the nearby village of Chan Aye, where shops were looted but calm was restored later in the day. [Source: AP, March 22, 2013]
Three days later, Associated Press reported: “Sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar spread to at least two other towns in the country's heartland over the weekend... State television said that mobs burned down a mosque and 50 homes on Saturday in Yamethin, about 64 kilometers (40 miles) from Meikhtila, and another mosque and several buildings were also set ablaze in Lewei, further south near the capital, Naypyitaw. The government has put the total death toll at 32, and authorities say they have detained at least 35 people allegedly involved in arson and violence in the region. [Source: Associated Press March 25, 2013]
Four days later, The Myanmar Times reported: “Religious violence has also broken out in Bago, located about one hour’s drive from Yangon. AFP said two mosques and dozens of homes were destroyed. The police have not reported any casualties. Additional riots have been reported in Yamethin town, near the capital Nay Pyi Taw, where homes and a mosque are said to be destroyed. [Source: Myanmar Times, March 26, 2013]
The day after that AFP reported: “Communal riots in Myanmar have spread closer to the main city Yangon in the wake of unrest that has left 40 people dead. Fresh clashes broke out in villages in the Bago region north of Yangon, police said. "Police and soldiers had to control the clashes almost the whole night," a police officer said of the violence in Bago, where two mosques and dozens of homes were reported to have been destroyed. "Security forces are still watching the area closely as Muslim communities are staying in that region." The officer added that there were no reports of casualties in the latest incident. [Source: AFP, March 27, 2013 ><]
“Ko Ko Latt, a spokesman of the All Myanmar Muslim Organisation, said the violence is being perpetrated by "one group" and a majority of Buddhists have been living quite peacefully with Muslims in the country. Dozens of people have been detained in connection with the violence, which saw armed rioters - including Buddhist monks - roaming the streets and threatening journalists who visited the town. ><
“Elsewhere, however, there were signs of fresh trouble over the weekend with violence on Saturday night leaving more than 40 houses and a mosque in ruins in Yamethin township near Naypyidaw, according to a ward official. Unrest was also reported in several other villages in the area. The mood has also grown nervous in parts of the main city of Yangon, according to local residents, where the regional government ordered restaurants or shops selling alcohol to close by 9.00pm According to a report in the New Light of Myanmar, a group of unnamed persons "who are unwilling to see peace and stability in the country are trying to destabilise peace and tranquility of Yangon". ><
The violence has spooked people in Yangon, where false rumors swirled of mosque burnings and authorities told some shops to close as a precautionary measure. Yangon is about 550 kilometers (340 miles) south of Meikhtila.
People Displaced by the Muslim Violence in March 2013 and Efforts to Restore Good Feelings
About 12,000 people were displaced by the Meikhtila riots. As of July 2013, about 3,500 Muslims and 850 Buddhists were still living in temporary shelters and three mosques in the town reopened.
Associated Press reported: “Vijay Nambiar, the U.N. secretary-general's special adviser on Myanmar, toured Meikhtila and... visited some of the nearly 10,000 people driven from their homes in the unrest. Most of the displaced are minority Muslims, who appeared to have suffered the brunt of the violence as armed Buddhist mobs roamed city. Nambiar said he was encouraged to learn that some individuals in both communities had bravely helped each other and that religious leaders were now advocating peace. He said the people he spoke to believe the violence "was the work of outsiders," but he gave no details. [Source: Associated Press March 25, 2013 ~]
"There is a certain degree of fear and anxiety among the people, but there is no hatred," Nambiar said after visiting both groups. "They feel a sense of community and that it is a very good thing because they have worked together and lived together." During his trip, Nambiar visited some of the thousands of Muslim residents at a city stadium, where they have huddled since fleeing their homes. He later visited around 100 Buddhists at a local monastery who have also been displaced. "The city is calm and some shops have reopened, but many still live in fear. Some still dare not return to their homes," said Win Htein, an opposition lawmaker from the city. ~
Myanma Ahlin, a state-run newspaper, carried a statement from Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Hindu leaders expressing sorrow for the loss of life and property and calling on Buddhist monks to help ease tensions. "We would like to call upon the government to provide sufficient security and to protect the displaced people and to investigate and take legal measures as urgently as possible," the statement from the Interfaith Friendship Organization said. ~
Muslims Jailed for Meiktila riots
In mid April 2013, AFP reported: “Three people including a gold shop owner have been jailed for 14 years in connection with religious riots in Myanmar, state media and police said. The three Muslims—who also include the owner's wife and an employee—were accused of beating a Buddhist customer in an argument over a gold hairpin in the town of Meiktila in central Myanmar on March 20. They were convicted of causing grievous bodily harm and theft with intent to cause death or injury, according to the state-run Mirror newspaper. The tough sentences are believed to be the first handed down in relation to the previous month's unrest. [Source: AFP, April 12, 2013]
In late April 2013, Reuters reported: “The trial of seven Muslim men accused of murdering a monk, believed to be the first killing in the March unrest in Meikhtila, is expected to conclude this week. Those on trial say they are innocent. [Source: Reuters, April 30, 2013]
Radical monks were linked to the unrest, which observers said appeared to be well organised. Their actions went unpunished. The situation has calmed since President Thein Sein on March 28 vowed a tough response against those behind the violence, which he attributed to "political opportunists and religious extremists".
Myanmar Mosque Fire Kills 13 Children in Early April 2013
In April 2013, Associated Press reported: “Thirteen children have died in a fire at an orphanage that operates from a mosque in Yangon. Police quickly put the blaze down to an electrical fault amid tensions over communal violence between Muslims and Buddhists. The fire started at 3am and trapped 16 children in a small loft, a mosque member said. Three jumped to safety but the others perished. After the fire security forces and three trucks of riot police blocked off roads around the two-storey compound in eastern Yangon which encompasses a mosque, a Muslim school and a dormitory. There were no reports of violence but around 200 people gathered nearby, some of them Muslims who expressed suspicions the fire had been set intentionally. [Source: Associated Press in Yangon, April 2, 2013 ^]
“Security bars blocked most of the white building's windows, which were marked by black smoke in the late morning. The building burned from the inside and firefighters had extinguished the flames before dawn. Police officer Thet Lwin, speaking at the scene, said the fire was triggered by an electrical short "and not due to any criminal activity" but was jeered by the crowd for saying so. ^
“Police in Myanmar said they are investigating the head of a mosque and a Muslim teacher for possible negligence. Police said 71 children lived in the burned compound and most were able to escape by running out of a door that rescue workers knocked open.Mosque member Soe Myint said most of the children, who had been sent to the religious boarding school by their parents, were sleeping on the ground floor when the blaze began and were able to flee. But 16 were sleeping in a small loft and were trapped when the stairs to it caught fire. Three boys jumped to safety and the rest died, he said. ^
“Hla Myint, whose 15-year-old nephew died in the blaze, waited in a crowd outside Yangon General Hospital, where the dead were taken. Two trucks of riot police were parked nearby. "We sent him to school only yesterday and today he is dead," she said. "We are so sad we can't express it." Later, several thousand mourners gathered at a cemetery on the outskirts of Yangon for a group burial. The charred bodies of the children were wrapped in white cloth before being lowered into the ground as women wept nearby. ^
Dispute Over the Cause of Myanmar Mosque Fire
In April 2013, Associated Press reported: “Soe Myint, who said he helped carry the dead out of the mosque, said he did not believe the fire was caused by a short circuit and urged authorities to launch a thorough investigation. "The whole mosque smelled of diesel," he said. "We don't use diesel at the school." Yangon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe told reporters late Tuesday that police discovered a container of diesel fuel underneath a staircase and said it helped fuel the blaze. He said the fuel was normally used to power a generator when the electricity went out. "This fire .... happened due to carelessness," Myint Swe said. [Source: Associated Press in Yangon, April 2, 2013]
“City police Chief Win Naing said authorities are investigating the head of the mosque and a teacher, but no arrests had been made. "As the two people in charge, they are responsible for this and we have to take action against them," he said. Win Naing said the fire started in a voltage regulator under the stairs that led to the sleeping loft and that firefighters had to break two locks on the door of the mosque to rescue the survivors. He ruled out arson, saying that three police were guarding the mosque and saw no one approach the building before the fire started. ^
“Speaking several hours after the blaze, police officer Thet Lwin blamed the fire on an electrical short circuit "and not due to any criminal activity." Every time he mentioned the word "electrical short," though, angry Muslims shouted and began banging on vehicles with their fists. He also appealed to journalists for help. "We need the media's support in Yangon. Please don't report that there is conflict in Yangon. We're here to stop conflict," he said. ^
“Security forces and three trucks of riot police blocked off roads around the scarred building as a crowd of 200 onlookers, mostly Muslims, gathered. Zaw Min Htun, a member of a local Muslim youth organization, said he raced to the mosque after hearing it was on fire. He said he entered the charred building and also smelled fuel. "Muslims are very angry," he said, calling on authorities to investigate. "The children are innocent. ... Someone burned the mosque." ^
Emily Alpert wrote in Los Angeles Times, “After the blaze, several people told news outlets, including the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Irrawaddy magazine, that they smelled diesel fuel or saw cloth soaked in it at the charred building. Yangon officials told reporters that allegations of arson were an attempt to shift blame for negligence on the part of those responsible for the children. "There was a lot of opportunity to save them if it had not been for the slow decision-making process and response from the mosque supervisors," Yangon Police Chief Win Naing said Tuesday, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported. The head of the mosque and a teacher are being investigated for possible negligence, police told the Associated Press. [Source: Emily Alpert, Los Angeles Times, April 02, 2013 ///]
“The dispute over the deadly fire comes as the government has faced sharp criticism for its handling of the attacks in Meiktila and elsewhere. Despite pledges to stop the violence, "the government has simply not done enough to address the spread of discrimination and prejudice against Muslim communities across the country, and to tackle the organized and coordinated mobs that are inciting hatred and violently attacking Muslim communities," U.N. special rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana said last week. ///
Eight Killed as Buddhist and Muslims from Myanmar Clash—in Indonesia
Reporting from Belawan, Indonesia, Binsar Bakkara of Associated Press wrote: “Sectarian and ethnic tensions running high in Myanmar boiled over far outside the country's borders, when Buddhist fishermen and Muslim asylum seekers from the country brawled with knives and rocks at an Indonesian immigration detention center, leaving eight dead and another 15 injured. The melee broke out in North Sumatra province, where more than 100 Rohingya migrants — most intercepted off Indonesia's coast after fleeing their homeland in rickety boats — and 11 Buddhists accused of illegal fishing were being housed together, said local police chief Endro Kiswanto. [Source: Binsar Bakkara, Associated Press, April 5, 2013]
He said witnesses told police the clash started after a Rohingya Muslim cleric and a fisherman got into a heated debate about sectarian violence that erupted in central Myanmar. The argument apparently started after the Rohingya migrants saw photos showing destruction caused by the recent violence, said Yusuf Umardani, detention center chief. Insults were traded, and the cleric was allegedly attacked by a fisherman. When the cleric screamed, his friends jumped in to help. From there, the rumble broke out so quickly, security guards were too late to stop it.
"The violence took place so fast, and it was completely unexpected because they had been living peacefully here so far," Umardani said. "Most of the dead victims suffered severe head injuries. Apparently, they fought using anything that they could get — rocks, wood, chairs and knives." Eight Buddhists were killed, and 15 Rohingya were injured. Three other Buddhists escaped unharmed, Kiswanto said.
Local police spokesman Col. Raden Heru Prakoso said 18 Rohingya detainees have been named as suspects. "Our friends were covered in blood," surviving fisherman Win Thike Oo told an Associated Press photographer at the scene. "If we were there at the time, we would also be dead." About 280 people are crammed into the overcrowded detention center — more than double its capacity. It is filled with a mix of mostly asylum seekers from different countries, including Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
Boatloads of Rohingya have been washing up on Indonesia's shores following a wave of violence in 2012."We actually don't understand about what is happening in my country," said survivor Oo, who has been detained for nine months at the center after being nabbed for illegal fishing in Indonesian waters. "We are only fishermen. We don't care about politics or conflict."
Buddhist-Muslim Violence Near Yangon in Late April 2013
Reporting from Okkan, Myanmar, Yadana Htun and Todd Pitman of Associated Press wrote: “They slept terrified in the fields, watching their homes burn through the night. And when they returned nothing was left but ashen debris. One day after hundreds of rampaging Buddhists armed with bricks stormed a clutch of Muslim villages in the closest explosion of sectarian violence yet to Myanmar's main city, Yangon, newly displaced Muslims were combing through the smoldering wasteland where their homes once stood, facing their losses and a suddenly uncertain future. "We ran into the fields and didn't carry anything with us," Hla Myint, a 47-year-old father of eight, said of the mobs who overran his village. Tears welling in his eyes, he added: "Now, we have nothing left." One of the 10 people injured in the assaults died overnight, said Thet Lwin, a deputy commissioner of police for the region. He said police have so far detained 18 attackers who destroyed 157 homes and shops in Okkan and three outlying villages. Okkan is just 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Yangon. [Source: Yadana Htun and Todd Pitman, Associated Press, May 1, 2013 *-*]
“The unrest was the first reported since late March, when similar Buddhist-led violence swept the town of Meikthila, further north in centrally Myanmar, killing at least 43 people. Hla Myint said that after the March violence, residents of Okkan began conducting informal security patrols to protect the village. But nothing happened for weeks and authorities told them not to worry. "But things happened unexpectedly," he told The Associated Press. "When the crowds came, they shouted things like 'Don't defend yourselves, we will only destroy the mosque, not your homes, we won't harm you. "But they destroyed our houses" anyway, he said. *-*
“The worst-hit areas were three outlying villages that form part of the town. Each village contained at least 60 mostly Muslim homes; all were torched. Columns of smoke and leaping flames could be seen rising from burning homes in the villages as a team of police approached, pausing to take pictures with their cellphones. Police gave no details on who was behind the assault. Khin Maung Than, a Muslim in Okkan, said he recognized some of the attackers but many faces were unfamiliar. *-*
“The mobs smashed his shop, stealing watches, breaking glass, and leaving overturned lamps and furniture scattered across the floor. He said he climbed to the roof to escape and then took refuge with Buddhist neighbors who hid him. Returning to the shop that doubles as his home, he said: "I am speechless. I have never experienced such riots in my life." The 60-year-old, who is married to a Buddhist woman, said he had heard of the previous month's violence in Meikhtila, but: "I didn't realize we'd face this because our town was very peaceful." His wife, San Htay, said police in the town were quickly overwhelmed. They tried to disperse the crowds, she said, and several were injured in the mayhem. "I can't explain how desperately sad I am now. My heart beats so fast because of fear," she told The Associated Press.” *-*
Afterwards, “Around 300 police stood guard in the area, which was quiet. The town's market was crowded, but Muslims were absent. It was not immediately clear what would happen to the newly displaced in Okkan. Some were taking refuge in the few houses that were not razed; others simply sat under the shade of trees. Several Muslims said didn't feel safe, but they would not leave because they feared more attacks elsewhere. They said they didn't trust the police to protect them and wondered how they would survive and get food. *-*
“The night after the attack, “they spent the night in the open, under the trees. Many could be seen that day, crouching in paddy fields and sitting along roadsides. Some, in a state of shock, wept as their houses burned and young men with buckets futilely tried to douse the flames. Residents said as many as 400 Buddhists armed with bricks and sticks rampaged through Okkan that afternoon. They targeted Muslim shops and ransacked two mosques; about 20 riot police were later deployed to guard one of them, a single-story structure with broken doors and smashed windows. *-*
Mosque, Muslim Orphanage Burned in Myanmar Near the Chinese Border May 2013
Reporting from Lashio, near the Chinese border in May 2013,Todd Pitman of Associated Press wrote: “Hundreds of Buddhist men on motorcycles waved iron rods and bamboo poles and threw rocks in a northeastern Myanmar town on Wednesday, a day after a mosque and a Muslim orphanage were torched in a new wave of violence targeting the religious minority. Residents said a movie theater was burned as the mob sped around the town. Many Buddhists and Muslims stayed locked inside their homes and shops were shuttered after violence in Lashio town, near the border with China, the latest region to fall prey to the country's spreading sectarian violence. The rioting in Lashio was sparked by reports that a Muslim man had set fire to a Buddhist woman. [Source: Todd Pitman, Associated Press, May 29, 2013 /~/]
The following “morning was quiet, but by afternoon several hundred young men, screaming and waving sticks, roamed the downtown area on motorcycles near City Hall. A Buddhist monk was seated on the back of one of the motorcycles, waving a stick. On another street, the crowd threw rocks at buildings. Many people were too afraid to step outside. Smoke could be seen over at least one area of town, and local politician Sai Myint Maung said a movie theater had been burned and that there were rumors that more troublemakers were gathered on the outskirts of the town. "The situation has changed 180 degrees. It was quiet the whole day and all of a sudden there is a fire and the situation has changed," he said. An officer from the No. 1 Lashio police station said police had been dispatched by truck to try to quell the new violence. The officer, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to release information, said at least four people were hurt. /~/
"My family is staying inside. We are afraid of being attacked," said one Muslim resident, Ko Maung Gyi, who spoke by telephone earlier from inside his locked home in Lashio's main Muslim neighborhood. "I never expected that such racial violence would erupt in Lashio," he said. "Our small town is multiethnic and we have lived in peace for a long time." /~/
“There were no reported fatalities after the night's violence in the remote mountain town. Order was initially restored after authorities banned gatherings of more than five people. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed and many shops and streets were empty, Sai Myint Maung said. The government appealed for calm. "Damaging religious buildings and creating religious riots is inappropriate for the democratic society we are trying to create," presidential spokesman Ye Htut said on his Facebook page. The message noted that "two religious buildings and some shops" in Lashio were burned, without specifying whether they were Muslim or Buddhist. "Any criminal act will be dealt with according to the law," Ye Htut said. /~/
“A 48-year-old man accused of setting fire to a 24-year-old Buddhist woman was arrested, state television reported. It said the man, identified as an Indian Muslim, threw gasoline on the woman. The report appeared to put to rest earlier questions over the man's religion. The man was charged with causing grievous injuries and arson, as well as drug possession due to stimulants found in his pocket, the TV report said. The woman was being treated for burns to her chest, back and hands. The report did not mention whether any members of the Buddhist mob were arrested, an omission likely to fuel more questions over whether minority Muslims can find justice in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar. /~/
“After the alleged immolation, an irate crowd of more than 100 people, including Buddhist monks, gathered outside a police station demanding that the alleged attacker be handed over, state TV reported. The crowd then rampaged through the town, setting fire to Lashio's largest mosque and several shops, the television report said. The mob also set fire to a Muslim school and orphanage that was so badly charred that only two walls remained, said Min Thein, a resident contacted by telephone. Police and other witnesses confirmed the school burning.” /~/
Buddhist-Muslim Violence in Northern Myanmar in August 2013
In August 2013, Reuters reported from Htan Kone in northern Myanmar: “Authorities restored order in Myanmar's northern Sagaing region on Sunday after a Buddhist mob set fire to nearly two dozen Muslim-owned buildings and attacked rescue workers in the latest widening of sectarian violence in the former military-run state. About 1,000 Buddhists, some carrying sticks and swords, attacked Muslim villagers in remote Htan Kone late on Saturday, destroying at least 20 homes and shops, according to witnesses and a government statement. Police and soldiers arrived later and fired into the air to disperse the crowd, they said. [Source: Associated Press, August 25, 2013 /*/]
“The violence in the rugged region about 665 kilometers (410 miles) from the commercial capital, Yangon, shows how far anti-Muslim anger has spread in the Buddhist-dominated country following spasms of unrest in northeastern Lashio in May, central Meikhtila in March and western Rakhine State last year. /*/
“The Ministry of Information said the unrest followed the attempted rape of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim man on Saturday. After the man was detained, about 150 villagers and three Buddhist monks gathered at the police station, demanding he be handed over to them, it said. When the police refused, the mob rioted, destroying Muslim homes, throwing rocks at police and attacking firemen before authorities restored order by 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, the ministry said. Police sergeant Win Nyi told Reuters 12 people from the mob had been arrested. A Reuters photographer in Htan Kone said the village was tense on Sunday evening but the violence had subsided. /*/
“Witnesses said some Muslims fled to neighboring villages or sheltered in a Muslim school. Saya Soe, 32, a Muslim villager, said houses were already burning by the time police and soldiers arrived. "The mobs stopped and went away only after midnight when the security forces fired four or five shots into the sky." Another Muslim resident, Azit Paing, said the cause of the unrest appears to have been an argument between a young Muslim man and a Buddhist woman, but he denied the man attempted to rape the woman. /*/
Buddhist-Muslim Violence in the Myanmar Coastal Town of Thandwe in September 2013
In late September 2013, one woman was killed and about 70 houses set on fire in trouble near coastal town of Thandwe. Al-Jazeera reported: “Hundreds of Buddhists have rioted in western Myanmar, killing a 94-year-old Muslim woman and setting more than 70 homes ablaze, police say. Kyaw Naing, a police officer, told the AP news agency that the clashes broke out in Thabyachaing village, about 20 kilometers north of the coastal town of Thandwe in Rakhine state. He said the woman died of stab wounds and between 70 and 80 houses were set on fire. Muslim residents said others were injured in the riot, but could not provide details. [Source: Al-Jazeera, October 1, 2013]
Reporting from Thabyuchaing, Kate Linthicum wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “U Abdul Samat spent his life farming the rice paddies that stretched, brilliant green, in all directions. Now he was nearly 90 years old, a great-grandfather who walked with a cane. He was also a Muslim, and the men who stormed his village with machetes were Buddhists looking for Muslims to kill. As the mob set fire to more than 100 homes not marked with a Buddhist flag, Abdul's neighbors took cover at the mosque. But Abdul wasn't quick enough. According to a survivor, the old man was killed by an assailant who swung a heavy sword into the back of his head. [Source: Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2013]
Muslim Victims of Myanmar Unrest Face Uncertain Future
More than a month after violence broke out in Meikhtila,Reuters reported: In Myanmar’s central heartlands, justice and security is elusive for thousands of Muslims who lost their homes in a deadly rampage by Buddhist mobs. Many are detained in prison-like camps, unable to return to neighborhoods and businesses razed by four days of violence in Meikhtila, and touched off a wave of anti-Muslim unrest fuelled by radical Buddhist monks. [Source: Reuters, April 30, 2013 ==]
“It’s for their own security,” said a police officer at a camp inside a sports stadium on Meikhtila’s outskirts. The camp holds more than 1,600 people guarded by police with orders not to let them leave. A dawn-to-dusk curfew has been in force in Meikhtila since the government declared martial law on March 22. Skeletal walls and piles of rubble are all that remain of Muslim homes and businesses that once covered several blocks at the heart of the town of 100,000 people in the center of Myanmar. ==
“Trials have begun, but so far only Muslims stand accused, raising fears that courts will further aggravate religious tension by ignoring the Buddhist ringleaders of the violence. An independent commission released a report on April 29 saying Myanmar must urgently address the plight of Muslims displaced by sectarian bloodshed in its western Rakhine State. It came in response to violence last June and October that killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims in an area dominated by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. ==
“Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said detaining internally displaced people (IDP) was a violation of their rights. “Locking people up in an IDP camp is not a substitute for providing basic security and ensuring communal peace,” he said. “Even if the authorities’ intent is good, they are clearly going about this the wrong way.” ==
“One of the president office’s spokesmen, Ye Htut, had previously stressed that the monks involved in the Meikhtila violence made up only a fraction of the 500,000-strong monkhood. “All perpetrators of violence will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said President Thein Sein in a nationally televised speech on March 28. ==
“Victims in relief camps “live freely and happily,” reported the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on April 5. The government had promised to help Muslims rebuild their homes, but reconstruction has yet to begin. Rebuilding more than 1,500 houses burned down or damaged would cost $7 million, it said. The unrest and the combustible sectarian relations behind it are one of the biggest tests of Myanmar’s reform-minded government, which took power in March 2011 after almost half a century of hardline military rule. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, but about 5 percent of its 60 million people are Muslim. ==
Myanmar Government Response to Anti-Muslim Violence
Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times, “The killings are a test for Myanmar’s government, which has done little to rein in radical Buddhists, even as it pursues broad economic and political reforms of policies created by its former military leaders. The government has backed severe restrictions imposed by local authorities on Muslims’ freedom of movement and deprivation of basic services in Rakhine State, where most Rohingya live. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, March, 1, 2014]
Yadana Htun and Todd Pitman of Associated Press wrote: “Stopping the spread of sectarian violence has proven a major challenge for Thein Sein's government since it erupted in western Rakhine state last year. Human rights groups have recently accused his administration of failing to crack down on Buddhist extremists as violence has spread closer to the economic capital, Yangon, at times overwhelming riot police who have stood by as machete-wielding crowds attacked Muslims and their property. [Source: Yadana Htun and Todd Pitman, Associated Press, May 1, 2013 *-*]
In April 2013, “Human Rights Watch issued the most comprehensive and detailed account yet of the violence in Rakhine state. The report accused authorities — including Buddhist monks, local politicians and government officials, and state security forces — of fomenting an organized campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against a Muslim minority known as the Rohingya.” Around the same time “a government-appointed commission investigating the Rakhine violence issued proposals to ease tensions there — including doubling the number of security forces in the volatile region and introducing family planning programs to stem population growth among minority Muslims.” *-*
The U.S. State Department said there were credible allegations of the involvement of local border security authorities in the burning of villages during the communal violence in western Rakhine State, and of Muslims being arbitrarily detained since June 2012, and reportedly denied food, water, and sleep. Some deaths in custody were reported, the department said. Thein Sein told the Washington Post that allegations the Myanmar army condones or even participates in ethnic pogroms against the nation's Muslim minority were a "pure fabrication." [Source: Matthew Pennington, Associated Press, May 20, 2013]
Thein Sein has vowed that his government would do everything it can to protect the rights of minority Muslims. In a speech broadcast on state television, he said his "government will take all necessary action to ensure the basic human rights of Muslims in Rakhine state, and to accommodate the needs and expectations of the Rakhine people." "In order for religious freedom to prevail, there must be tolerance and mutual respect among the members of different faiths," he said. Only then, he added, "will it be possible to coexist peacefully." [Source: Associated Press, May 7, 2013]
In September 2013, Al-Jazeera reported: “Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, travelled to the western state of Rakhine in his first visit since sectarian violence broke out more than a year ago."Just military and police forces won't be enough to control the situation. These burnings, killings and violence will not happen only when you take part to maintain peace by yourself" Sein said, addressing a gathering in Pauk Taw township, one of the townships faced with unrest. He was due to hold meetings with Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities during his two-day visit, according to a presidential office official. President Sein, who has been praised for making moves to transition from half a century of military rule, has also been criticised for failing to contain the unrest and protect the country's embattled Muslim minority. [Source: Al-Jazeera, October 1, 2013]
The state-owned newspaper Myanman Ahlin has reported that close to 1,500 people have been arrested on charges related to sectarian violence, and 535 of them have been convicted. Most of the cases are in Rakhine state, where more than 200 people were killed last year as tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were driven from their homes. The paper did not break down the numbers by religion. [Source: Associated Press, July 11, 2013]
Six Muslims Charged with Murder for Alleged Role in Sectarian Violence in Myanmar
In May 2013, Associated Press reported: “A court in Myanmar has charged six Muslims with murder for their alleged role in an outbreak of sectarian violence that shook the country in March, authorities said as a rights group raised concern over a judicial system that has so far failed to prosecute Buddhists who brutally hunted Muslims down in the streets and torched whole neighborhoods. The charges are the latest legal action against minority Muslims in the central city of Meikthila, one of several recent flashpoints for anti-Muslim violence.[Source: Associated Press, May 07, 2013]
At least 43 people were killed and 12,000 displaced during several days of unrest in Meikhtila, which descended into anarchy as Buddhist mobs rampaged through the town and police stood idly by. Most of the victims were Muslim. Since then, authorities have detained 50 people, including members of both religious groups, but so far no Buddhists have been formally charged with serious crimes.
All six Muslim men charged Monday face possible death penalties for allegedly killing a Buddhist monk, Advocate-General Ye Aung Myint said. He told The Associated Press that police also opened a case against 15 people — including two Muslims — for the more minor crimes of robbery and looting during the unrest. The March violence started after a dispute between a Muslim gold shop owner and several Buddhist customers. The gold shop owner and two employees, all Muslims, were sentenced by the same court in April to 14 years in prison on charges of theft and causing grievous bodily harm.
Human Rights Watch said it was seriously concerned about a "lack of accountability for crimes committed against Muslim communities." "The authorities need to demonstrate that investigations and prosecutions aren't discriminatory and are in line with international standards, but they aren't doing that," said Matthew Smith, a researcher for the group. "What we are seeing in Meikhtila is consistent with what we are seeing elsewhere in the country — a failure to bring perpetrators to account."
Burma Jails 25 Buddhists for Mob Killings of 36 Muslims in Meikhtila
In July 2013, Associated Press reported: “A Burmese court has sentenced 25 Buddhists to up to 15 years in prison for murder and other crimes during a night of rioting, burning and killing in central Burma, after weeks in which it seemed only Muslims were being punished for sectarian violence aimed largely at them. But the sentences did not erase a sense of unequal justice: a day earlier, a Muslim received a life sentence for murdering one of 43 people killed in March in the central Burmese town of Meikhtila. [Source: Associated Press, July 11, 2013]
The toughest sentence stemmed from the deadliest incident of the Meikhtila riots: a brutal mob attack on an Islamic school, its students and teachers that killed 36 people. The state-run Keymon daily said eight people – seven Buddhists and one Muslim – were convicted in Meikhtila district court for crimes connected to the school massacre. Tin Hlaing, a local reporter present during the hearings, told Associated Press that four of the eight were found guilty of murder and causing other injuries, receiving sentences of between 10 and 15 years in jail. He did not provide details about their roles in the slaughter but said the other four convicted were involved in lesser offences.
Tin Hlaing also said four Muslim men on Tuesday received sentences of at least seven years in prison – with one getting a life sentence – for their roles in the murder of a 19-year-old university student during the unrest. The district court also sentenced 10 Buddhist men to one to nine years for their involvement in the death of a Muslim man. A township court sentenced six men and one woman, all Buddhists, to two years' imprisonment each for damaging the gold shop. The Meikhtila district chairman, Tin Maung Soe, said one Buddhist man was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for causing grievous harm in connection with the killing of two Muslim men.
There have been many earlier sentencings, in Meikhtila and elsewhere, but the majority involved Muslim defendants. Tin Maung Soe said most of the 73 people charged with crimes related to the rioting there are Buddhists. Asked why Buddhists were given lighter sentences than some of the Muslims, Meikhtila district legal officer Khin Win Phyu said the sentences were handed down "based on the testimonies of the witnesses". "The courts passed their verdict according to law and there is no bias or privilege toward any group," she said.
Six Buddhists Charged with Murder over Muslim Bus Killings
In August 2013, AFP reported: “Six Buddhist men will face trial over the lynching of 10 Muslim bus passengers. More than 200 people died in violence between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya in Arakan state in the days after the 3 June 2012 bus attack, which saw the passengers dragged from the vehicle and killed by a mob. The apparent trigger for the attack was the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman a few days earlier in Thandwe district, allegedly by Muslims. [Source: AFP, August 16, 2013]
“The men have been charged with murder because of their involvement in killing people on a bus,” a police official told AFP, declining to be named. “The court hearing will start on 26 August,” he said, adding the men were all Buddhists and had been arrested after an investigation. The group was arrested in July and appeared in a local court to hear the charges, an administrative official told AFP, also requesting anonymity.
Western Government and NGO Response to Anti-Muslim Violence in Myanmar
Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times, “The bloodletting is also a challenge for Western governments that have showered economic aid and good will on Myanmar in the hope of winning the fealty of the resource-rich fledgling democracy. Those countries have mostly kept their concerns about the treatment of the Rohingya quiet in the hope, diplomats said, of persuading the government to change its stance. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, March, 1, 2014]
Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: East and Southeast Asia, edited by Paul Hockings (C.K. Hall & Company); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014