Myanmar’s government is struggling to contain anti-Muslim violence that touched the outskirts of the capital, Naypyitaw, at the weekend and forced it to send troops to patrol the streets in the town where the recent trouble started.
Four houses and a small mosque in Tatkon township on the northern edges of Naypyitaw were set ablaze late on Sunday, a civil servant in the capital told Reuters on Monday.
Communal tension, stifled under half a century of army rule, has resurfaced since President Thein Sein’s reformist government took office in 2011.
It has released dissidents and relaxed media censorship, but was also criticized for failing to quell last year’s violence in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. Official figures say 110 people were killed and 120,000 were left homeless, most of them Rohingya Muslims.
…Violence here in Rakhine State — where clashes have left at least 167 people dead and 100,000 people homeless, most of them Muslims — has set off an exodus that some human rights groups condemn as ethnic cleansing. It is a measure of the deep intolerance that pervades the state, a strip of land along the Bay of Bengal in western Myanmar, that Buddhist religious leaders like Mr. Nyarna, who is the head of an association of young monks, are participating in the campaign to oust Muslims from the country, which only recently began a transition to democracy from authoritarian rule.
After a series of deadly rampages and arson attacks over the past five months, Buddhists are calling for Muslims who cannot prove three generations of legal residence — a large part of the nearly one million Muslims from the state — to be put into camps and sent to any country willing to take them. Hatred between Muslims and Buddhists that was kept in check during five decades of military rule has been virtually unrestrained in recent months.
Even the country’s leading liberal voice and defender of the downtrodden, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been circumspect in her comments about the violence. President Obama made the issue a priority during his visit to the country this month — the first by a sitting American president — and Muslim nations as diverse as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia have expressed alarm.
Unforgiving history: Why Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine state in Myanmar are at each others’ throats
IN THE morning sunlight, the panorama from the Shwethaung pagoda, on the highest hill in Mrauk-u, looked magical: lush rice paddy, sparkling lakes and wooded hills, many topped by other glinting gilt pagodas. But in one spot, black smoke was billowing. Another village was burning. From October 22nd-24th Mrauk-u, a tourist centre in Rakhine state in Myanmar, and former capital of the independent kingdom of Arakan, turned into a war zone.
Below the pagoda a spontaneous, medieval army was massing. Hundreds of young men were on the march: packed on the backs of pickups, on motorcycles, on trishaws, tuk-tuks and bicycles, but mostly on foot. They carried spears, swords, cleavers, bamboo staves, slingshots, crossbows and the occasional petrol bomb. Violence between the Buddhist majority and the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority has wracked Rakhine since June. These were angry Buddhists seeking to avenge the deaths of three of their kin, killed, they said, by Muslims. One tugged at an imaginary beard and made a grisly throat-cutting gesture.
Within days the trouble had spread across Rakhine, a strip of Myanmar’s western coastline that borders Bangladesh in the north. The government reported 82 killed, 4,600 houses burned and more than 22,000 people displaced—all almost certainly underestimates. Satellite imagery shows the utter destruction of a Muslim quarter of the coastal town of Kyaukphyu, from where oil-and-gas pipelines are to cross Myanmar to China.
According to state information agency New Light of Myanmar, 50 people have died, with 54 injured between May 28 and June 14 in Rakhine state, which has been rocked by violence between local Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya.
The report did not say whether the updated toll includes 10 Muslims beaten to death on June 3 by a Rakhine Buddhist mob in apparent revenge for the rape and murder of a woman, which sparked the violence.
A state of emergency was in force in Rakhine on Saturday with New Light saying security forces were “restoring peace, stability and security” after the unrest, which poses a serious challenge to Burma’s reform-minded government.
“Yesterday (June 14), there were only two riots in the state, and authorities concerned could handle these two cases peacefully in accord with respective law,” the report said.
Nearly 31,900 people from both sides are being housed in 37 camps across Rakhine, officials in the state capital Sittwe said on Thursday, while thousands of homes on both sides have been torched.