Violence against Muslims continues to spread in Myanmar, leaving 6 dead and dozens of homes destroyed last week in Muslim-occupied areas that have previously not been targeted.
Nothing is changing, despite the government’s protestations to the contrary. The persecuted Rohingya have not been
assisted; their plight has just gone underground and Myanmar is getting better
at keeping it out of the news.
By THOMAS FULLER
Published: October 2, 2013 NY Times Asia Pacific section
Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters
A Muslim man searches for his belongings in his burnt home outside Thandwe.
BANGKOK — A resurgence of religious violence in western
Myanmar this week has left six Muslims dead and dozens of homes destroyed, a
senior police officer said Wednesday.
The deaths and the burning of houses in and around the city of Thandwe occurred Tuesday, just
hours before President Thein Sein arrived in the restive area on Wednesday as
part of a scheduled visit to cool religious tensions and criticize “extremism.”
“There are casualties and damage on both sides,” Mr. Thein Sein said on state television.
But according to accounts from the police officer, Lt. Col Kyaw Tint, and a villager who witnessed some
of the fighting, the violence followed a disturbingly familiar pattern:
sword-wielding Buddhist mobs rampaging through Muslim neighborhoods.
“All the people who were found dead were from the Muslim community,” Colonel Kyaw Tint said.
After flaring up last year in western Myanmar, anti-Muslim violence has spread to areas around the country this year,
leaving dozens of people dead, almost all of them Muslims and some of them
children. Buddhist nationalist groups have called for a boycott of Muslim
shops, and radical
Buddhist monks have stoked anti-Muslim feelings in sermons across
The International Crisis Group, a research organization, released a report this week saying that more clashes between Buddhists and Muslims were likely
because of “the depth of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country, and the
inadequate response of the security forces.”
Colonel Kyaw Tint said tensions remained high between Buddhists and Muslims around Thandwe; the police
have imposed a curfew, he said.
U Nyi Lay, a Muslim and grocery store owner in Thandwe, said Buddhist mobs attacked his neighborhood
and set fire to houses. “We defended ourselves with whatever we had,” he said.
Police officers fired their weapons into the air to try to disperse the
attackers and told villagers to stay inside their houses, he said.
“We are living in fear,” Mr. Nyi Lay said.
Hatred and mistrust are especially deep between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State, which borders
Bangladesh. Last year, more than 150 people were killed and well over 100,000
were forced from their homes in the state. The majority of the victims and
those displaced were Rohingya, an ethnic group numbering around one million
people that is not officially recognized in Myanmar and whose members have been
largely denied citizenship.
But unlike last year’s violence, which largely occurred in areas closer to the Bangladesh border, the
attacks this week were on well-established Muslim neighborhoods farther south
that have existed side by side with Buddhists for generations.
“This kind of violence has never happened in Thandwe before,” said Colonel Kyaw Tint.
Many of the Muslims in the area are from the Kaman ethnic group, which, unlike the Rohingya group, is
recognized by the Burmese government.
Officials in Rakhine do not hide their disdain for Muslims. A spokesman for the Rakhine State government, U
Win Myaing, blamed Muslims for this week’s violence but did not offer
specifics. “You can see in all the recent conflicts that Bengalis sparked the
incidents,” he said using the government’s preferred term for Rohingya. “The
problems always begin with them.”