New Violence in Western Burma Claims 56 Lives

Women wait at a Burmese Red Cross health clinic near Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State. (Photo: Reuters)

Women wait at a Burmese Red Cross health clinic near Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State. (Photo: Reuters)

KYAUKTAW, Arakan State—At least 56 people were killed and nearly 2,000 homes destroyed in the latest outbreak of sectarian violence in western Burma, a government official said on Thursday.

The 25 men and 31 women were reported dead in four Arakan (Rakhine) State townships in violence between the Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya communities that re-erupted on Sunday, local government spokesman Win Myaing said.

He said some 1,900 homes had been burned down in fresh conflict, while 60 men and four women were injured. It was unclear how many of the victims were Rohingya and how many were ethnic Arakanese.

In June, sectarian violence in the state left at least 90 people dead and destroyed more than 3,000 homes. Tens of thousands of people remain in refugee camps.

The United States called for the Burmese authorities to take immediate action to halt the violence. The United Nations appealed for calm.

An Associated Press photographer who traveled to Kyauktaw, one of the affected townships 45 kilometers (75 miles) north of the Arakan capital of Sittwe, said he saw 11 wounded people brought by ambulance to the local 25-bed hospital, most with gunshot wounds.

One was declared dead after arrival. All the victims being treated were Arakanese, but that could reflect an inability or unwillingness of Rohingya victims to be treated there.

A male volunteer at the hospital, Min Oo, said by telephone that five bodies, including one of a woman, had also been brought there. He said the injured persons were brought by boat from Kyauktaw Town 16 kilometers (10 miles) away, and taken from the jetty by the ambulances.

An account by an Arakanese villager in the area suggested great confusion and tension. The villager said that when groups of Buddhists and the Rohingya had a confrontation, government soldiers shot into a crowd of the former, even though, according to his claim, it had been dispersing. The villager would not give his name for fear of violent reprisals.

There have been concerns in the past that soldiers were failing to protect the Rohingya community, but the Arakanese villager’s account hints that the military may have been defending the Rohingya in this case.

Curfews have been in place in some areas since June, and been extended to others due to the recent violence.

Tensions still simmer in part because the government has failed to find any long-term solution to the crisis other than segregating the two communities in some areas.

The United Nations called for calm on Thursday in response to the new violence.

“The UN is gravely concerned about reports of a resurgence of inter-communal conflict in several areas in Rakhine State—which has resulted in deaths and has forced thousands of people, including women and children, to flee their homes,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma Ashok Nigam said in a statement.

Nigam said the United Nations was appealing for “immediate and unconditional access to all communities in accordance with humanitarian principles.”

The statement said large numbers of people fleeing the new violence were headed for already overcrowded refugee camps currently housing about 75,000 people previously made homeless.

“Short term humanitarian support and action towards long term solutions are urgently required to address the root causes of the conflict,” said the statement.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was deeply concerned about the reports of increasing sectarian violence in Arakan state and urged restraint.

The unrest broke out days after the US held what it described as an encouraging human rights dialogue with Burma—the latest sign of diplomatic re-engagement with the former pariah state, which has also seen the easing of sanctions to reward it for democratic reforms.

The unrest is some of the worst reported in the region since June, after clashes were set off by the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men in late May.

The crisis in Burma’s west goes back decades and is rooted in a dispute over where the region’s Muslim inhabitants are from. Although many Rohingya have lived in the country for generations, they are widely denigrated as foreigners—intruders who came from neighboring Bangladesh to steal scarce land.

The UN estimates their number at 800,000. But the government does not count them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, and so—like neighboring Bangladesh—denies them citizenship. Human rights groups say racism also plays a role: Many Rohingya, who speak a distinct Bengali dialect and resemble Muslim Bangladeshis, have darker skin and are heavily discriminated against.

The conflict has proven to be a major challenge for the government of President Thein Sein, which has embarked on democratic reforms since a half-century of military rule ended in 2011.

It also poses a dilemma for the opposition National League for Democracy party of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which has been reluctant to go against the tide of popular anti-Rohingya sentiment. Suu Kyi has been criticized by some Western human rights advocates for failing to speak out strongly against what they see as repression of the Rohingya.

Buddhist monks have been spearheading anti-Rohingya protests, and on Thursday staged their latest one in Rangoon, the country’s biggest and most important city. More than 100 staged a peaceful protest at the historic Sule Pagoda.

9 Responses to New Violence in Western Burma Claims 56 Lives

  1. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    Irrawaddy, Burmese exile news agencies along with foreign Medias are jumping again at this chance to prove this accident of arson as their politically correct bona fides. No news agencies will try to help finding the solution, but to take advantage of it for their publication promotion. Denouncing Buddhist is an easy short for all the medias including Irrawaddy to appease its long time financial supporters; the west. Buddhist is a popular word in quoting of instigators, especially, when it comes to blame for the violence while Bengali are quoted as harmless and normally the victim of the crisis, running for their lives. 

    No blaming and shaming, including my comment will help to the deteriorating situation of the nature of the communal riots. Burmese Government has to be very assertive in restoring stability in this rival community. The restrain order and separation of tow rival communities is a must in securing saving its citizens and aliens. Indecisiveness of the government of Burma is a major barrier to stop this communal violent retaliation. 

    For me, as an ordinary Burmese, majority of Bengali who do not even speak any of Burmese ethnic languages, are illegal immigrants that their residency status in Burma have to be defined. Time is up, no more, enough is enough. Don’t be impaired by tolerance in protecting Burmese citizens for their own safety within their own land. It is time for a designated safe area for illegal Bengali as suggested by president U Thein Sein. This is the only option left to have an effective restrain to prevent further communal violence. No matter who initiated the arson; as it has come to surface, Burmese citizens are subject to be blamed again as envisaged by these illegal Bengali for their own advantage. Sick and tired of being a punch bag of senseless people for our own generosity of giving a refuge within our society to these nonsense illegal Bengali!  Time for the designated safe area for them or the cycle of violence won’t end at all.

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  2. The primary quality a Buddhist should possess is non-violence.  

  3. Thirty one women killed is very bad indeed.Were they killed by  so called coward Bengalis or peaceful Buddhist Rakhines or the security forces? It should be investigated.

  4. Totally agree…
    Why don’t those donors for refugees, take those refugees to their countries…instead of shouting & blaming our ethnic Rakhine people.  How come they don’t say anything on our Rakhine people have been killed in their own land???
    Yes, Irawaddy needs to be really careful on those bias news agencies.

  5. the serbs created “safe havens” for the bosnian muslims e.g. Sebrenica so that mass executions will be alot easier. All males men and boys were executed, then mass rape were done on the defenseless women, muslims and croats alike. The Nazis created areas were jews were to be collected e.g. ghettos so that the final solution could be carried out. The Japanese created safe zones to in Nanking , China during WWII where mass rapes, executions were carried out. Again history repeating itself all due to ignorant arrogant nationalistic ideals. What you burmese are doing is nothing new. You burmese “freedom fighters” seem to have a long history of war and aggression. How fitting that “buddhist monks” are leading the burmese to doom in their zealous quest for nationalistic intolerance. It will end when the last burmese freedom fighters pull the trigger on each other. Those who don’t learn from the past are condemn to repeat it……..  

    • The Burmese Freedom Fighter

      Each time hate crime takes place in the name of religion, there is undeniable argument that a tiny percentage has carried out violence, an argument of a hard reality that for sure drive a wedge into any societies, including Burma. 

      The root of the current communal riots in Burma is intolerance of that minority Bengali with their crime acts against the host majority Rakhine. Their religion leaders didn’t adhere with the principle of play by the same set of rule of the state, but their religion teaching, reasoning no law is higher than the law of their religion. 

      These days: No one can go unnoticed more and more violence has taken place in the name of religion in the areas inhabited by a majority of Muslims in the world. Each time it happens, none of the Muslim leaders condemn the increase of radicalism in all Muslim countries with their numerous crimes. 

      Everywhere, attacks happen and suicide bombers carry out their missions in the name of Allah. And what do the leaders and imams of our Muslim communities say? “It has nothing to do with Islam.” Can we accept this lack of explanation, especially when considering that so many verses of the Koran encourage the fight against non-Muslim religions and promise Paradise to their soldiers? 

      The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  6. Time is up and enough is enough from you ‘BFF’ and your fellow apologists for bigotry, hatred, racism. No matter who did this? No matter??? Of course it matters… though probably not to you, in your quest for the mass incarceration of thousands, for the 21st century’s first concentration camp. Disgusting.

    • The Burmese Freedom Fighter

      What a blamer! The response of blamer as I expect will always be intensely angry, very defensive, and possibly vengeful. A Blamer will say I am wrong, and he takes the crime I’ve accused him of and says I’m the one who actually did the crime. Come up with some solution rather than blaming someone all the time. No more time to waste! Be a part of the solution.

      The Burmese Freedom Fighter –
      BFF = Best Friend Forever

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