Burma Partnership, Strengthening Cooperation for a Free Burma
Signup Now!
Join our mailing list for latest news and information about Burma.

Communal Violence Spreads as Security Forces Stand By

By Burma Partnership  •  March 25, 2013

Meikhtila March 2013 © ReutersStarting on Wednesday, 20 March, Burma saw a shocking return to the communal violence that engulfed Arakan State last year. In the central town of Meikhtila, Mandalay Division, attacks on people and property, have left at least 32 dead, religious and residential buildings burned to the ground, and more than 6,000 displaced. They are mainly Muslim people who are now living in a temporary refugee camp in a football stadium, 2 miles out of town.

The spark that lit the fuse in Meikhtila was an argument in a gold shop on Wednesday between the Muslim owner and Buddhist customer. A fight broke out and later that day a mob arrived to destroy the shop and nearby Muslim-owned businesses. Fighting in the street escalated as sections of the two communities fought, and by the end of Friday, an unconfirmed number of people had been killed. President Thein Sein declared a State of Emergency on Friday afternoon and order was restored by Saturday morning. The official death toll from the government is 32, announced on state television on Saturday night, but other sources are claiming over 100. It is difficult to attain reliable figures as journalists, both domestic and foreign, were threatened by mobs and some had to hide in a monastery. On Saturday night, more violence erupted in the town of Yamethin, around 34 miles from Meikhtila, as an argument in a teashop resulted in over 50 buildings, mostly Muslim-owned, being torched, although there are no confirmed deaths.

Simmering tensions between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Burma have existed for many years, and have been exploited by successive regimes to create a situation where the army is needed. One of the more destructive elements present in Burma today, and well known to the government, is the “969 campaign” that spreads hate-filled literature, inciting violence against Muslims. It is present throughout the country, from organizing a boycott of Muslim businesses in Karen State to destroying Muslim shops in Mon State and playing CDs of 969 sermons in teashops in Rangoon. Rumors of a “third massacre,” after the two in Arakan State last year, have been floating around towns and cities in Burma for a few weeks. This raises the question of why the government has not done more to stop this campaign or to prevent the violence.

The reluctance, and in some cases negligence of the authorities to intervene in the spreading of these messages is consistent with the actions of the security forces in Meikhtila this past week. The town is a garrison town, with both an air force base and an infantry base. The military personnel were in close proximity to the violence and could have been deployed extremely quickly to quell the violence but this was not done. Furthermore, witnesses talk of riot police standing around watching as the violence unfolded. As Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Students Group pointed out, “When a mob of people with weapons in their hands are killing a person for no reason right in front of the security forces’ eyes, then they shouldn’t have to waste time asking questions.” It seems strange how a military police force that has had years of experience crushing those they deemed as “destructive elements of society” could prove to be so ineffective in Meikhtila, taking 3 days to intervene. According to Burma Partnership Coordinator, Khin Ohmar, after the violent crackdown of the 8888 Uprising there was a one month period of “democracy” under the civilian, interim president, Dr. Maung Maung in which army trucks patrolling around Rangoon did nothing to stop the rioting taking place in front of their eyes.

It is important to note that everyone in the community did not undertake these kinds of actions. Reports of Buddhist monks escorting Muslim families to the camps as well as Buddhist households hiding petrified Muslims from mobs have also emerged.

There is an underlying tension between certain elements of the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Burma. There needs to be long term, trust building policies and programs, and effective implementation of such policies and programs that can harmonize the fractured relationship between them. The government, however, is not only not addressing this, but allowing warning signs of further escalation and spread of this kind of violence to be present in many parts of Burma. The international community must acknowledge the gravity of the situation and urge the government to take full responsibility to ensure this violence does not spread any further and that vulnerable communities are provided full security and care under international human rights and humanitarian law.

Tags: , , , ,

This post is in: Blog

Related Posts
Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice
Burma Army Displays Blatant Disregard for 21st Century Panglong Peace Process
Ann Din Coal Power Plant: Local Movement and Action to Preserve and Protect Natural Resources and Land: Mon IDP Report Case Study #4
Latest Human Rights Abuse Case Demonstrates Urgent Need to Reform the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Far From Guaranteed as US Sanctions on Burma Are Removed