Thousand Homes Torched in Fresh Arakan Strife

An internally displaced woman stands outside a tent in western Burma’s Arakan State. (Photo: Reuters)

RANGOON—Fresh clashes between Muslims and Buddhists have broken out in volatile western Burma, leaving at least two people dead and more than a thousand homes burned to the ground, authorities said on Tuesday.

The Information Ministry admitted the violence was continuing and local authorities were trying to restore law and order.

The unrest, which began on Sunday night, is some of the worst reported between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Arakanese Buddhists since skirmishes swept the region in June, displacing around 70,000 people.

Arakan State Attorney General Hla Thein said the latest violence began in Minbyar Township, around 15 miles north of the state capital Sittwe. It later spread farther north to Mrauk-U Township. Both areas are remote, reachable only by foot, Hla Thein said.

Authorities imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the townships on Monday, Hla Thein said. Although he declared both areas calm on Tuesday, the Information Ministry announced later in the day that the violence was continuing.

Hla Thein said one Buddhist man and two Muslim women died in Sunday’s riots, but the ministry put the death toll at two—a man and a woman. It said 531 houses from six villages in Minbyar and 508 houses in two villages in Mrauk-U had been destroyed in arson attacks.

The unrest comes four months after members of the two religious groups turned on each other across Arakan State in June after the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men in late May.

That violence left at least 90 people dead and destroyed more than 3,000 homes and dozens of mosques and monasteries. The two groups are now almost completely segregated in towns such as Sittwe, where the Arakanese are able to roam freely while the Rohingya are mostly confined to a series of camps outside the city center.

The last serious clashes in the state took place in August, when government officials said seven people were killed in the town of Kyauktaw. The United Nations said 600 homes were burned at the time.

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—illegal 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 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.

6 Responses to Thousand Homes Torched in Fresh Arakan Strife

  1. Sometimes religion motivates violence, and sometimes it is used, even
    manipulated, to justify violence.

  2. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    Is it only me to feel that there is no fairness at all in the pictures coverage of Irrawaddy News on the communal riots in Rakhine State of Burma? Is it only me to have a feeling of suffocated after having profound notice of the picture usage in Irrawaddy news?  Is it only me to think that majority of the pictures printed in the Irrawaddy news are very bias in favor of Bengali?  You, readers, tell me what you think of what I feel.

    Here is my opinion. Each time I see picture of Rakhine on the coverage of Irrawaddy, they always tend to have swords and some sort of weapons in their hands while Bengali picture quite often tend to be women and children, that portraits some sort of starving to death, if happen to be male, they  appear to be some sort of begging for their lives.  I think there is complete bias in the usage of pictures in favor of Bengali in the Irrawaddy news coverage on communal riots in Rakhine State. 

    I can’t go unnoticed from my attention after having profound observation since day one of Irrawaddy coverage on communal riots. If any of the readers pay enough attention on the pictures of any news on communal riots coverage in Irrawaddy, none of you would escape to find out that the pictures used in the news shows how aggressive the Rakhine are, and how innocent the Bengali are; Am I missing something? 

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  3. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    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. A designated safe area for illegal Bengali as suggested by president U Thein Sein is the only option left to have an effective restrain order in place 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!   

    Is there any lesson learnt from these hate crimes against Rakhine people? There has been so many times Bengali are fooling us around that has to be dealt with the seriousness of immigration law, or the cycle of these arson against each other within the rival community will never comes to its end. Nothing is more important than the protection of Burmese citizens for their safety. That is number one duty of any government. Everything else is ancillary. 

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  4. @ Burmese Freedom Fighter

    The Irrawaddy is giving a fair, balanced image of the violence. Maybe its your nationalist point of view and not the Irrawaddy´s news coverage that is wrong? Ever thought about that?

    Maybe its not the innocent Bamar/Rakhine Buddhiste and the violent Muslims? Maybe the Bengalis are actually the victim. Ever thought about that?


  5.  If Burma won’t take them why won’t you, Bangladesh? – The Express Tribune Blog

    Found this history among comments:

    Ne Myo Win 17 hours ago

    @Mike and alike,

    I have worked in Maung Daw for two years as a NGO worker. Therefore, I
    have fair shares of knowledge on Arakan. During my working period, I had
    good rapports with both people, Rakhines and Rohingyas. I have
    something to share you all. And please keep an open-mid while reading. I
    don’t expect anyone to be a paranoid and Oxymoron!

    1) British has recorded Muslims in Arakan as Chittagonians or
    Mohammedans. So, in everyone’s opinion, this is the rightest term
    Biritish used for Muslims in Arakan. So, British’s records are most
    correct. If so, what term did the British use for Buddhists in Arakan?
    Rakhine? Obviously not! If yes, is there any evidence for the fact that
    British refered the Buddhists in Arakan as Rakhines? British are right
    and honest because they refered Muslims in Arakan as Chittagonians. The
    same British are wrong and dis-honest because they refered Buddists in
    Arakan as Maghs. Why double standards?

    2) Screw both religions, Islam and Buddhism, and both names, Rakhine and
    Rohingya here. Let us put some logical arguments. Everyone will agree
    if we say that there were the periods called Dhannyawadi and Vesali in
    the history of Arakan. No one will deny this. OK, then. Can anybody tell
    us that the kings or rulers in these two historical periods, which
    dated back to more than 2000 years, belonged to which stocks of human
    race, Indo-Aryan (i.e. Indian-look-alike people) or Mongoloid (Mongolian
    look-alike people)? What are the meanings of terms Dhannyawadi and
    Vesali (Vaishali)? From which language these terms were derived from? In
    which stock of human race did Siddartha Gautama Buddha and most of
    earliest follwers, because of whom Buddhistism had spreaded throughout
    the region, belong to?

    3) We know there was a people called Rakkhasha (in Pali meaning
    Cannibals) who used to eat even human beings who are stragers to them.
    The word has varied through historical periods from Rakkhasha to Rakkha
    to Rakkuain now to Rakhine. According some other people, Rakhine was
    derived from Pali word Rakkhita (meaning people who look after and take
    care of their race). Yet, it doesn’t matter to us. According to the
    historians, the place was called Rakkhapura (again in Pali). Has the
    whole region of Arakan including Chittagong area been called so? Have
    the cannibals used to live throughout the whole region? How did these
    Rakkhasha people look alike, mongoloid, aryan, caucasians, negroid? Why
    was a Pali word “Rakkhasha” used to address cannibals? Who named these
    cannibals as Rakkhasha by using a Pali word? Wasn’t there be a paralell
    people to Rakkasha, who named them so using Pali word? Or have they
    named them “Rakkhasha” (cannibals) by theirselves using a Pali word? Was
    Pali the language of cannibals? Wasn’t Pali an Indian literature and
    language? Isn’t it originated to India? Arakan was the name of a land,
    not that of people or race. The word Arakan is the plural form of the
    Arabic word “Rukn” as well. But I don’t mean that Arakan was derived
    from the Arabic word. It might or might not be.

    4) Indo-Arayan people have been living in Arakan since B.C. 3323
    according to the book with the title “Za Lok Kay Pho Lay?” (written by
    San Kyaw Tuan, (Maha Wizza), a Rakhine from Rathedaung, foreworded by
    the late Dr. Aye Kyaw and contributed by scholars like Dr. Aye Chan,
    Khin Maung Saw) page No. 81]. Who were these Indo-Aryans? Were not they
    forefathers of the people called Rohingya today? Are Rakhines
    descendants of Indo-Aryan race? In which group of human stocks did
    Rakhines fall, Indo-Aryan or Mongoloid?

    5) Burmese Junta and some extremist Rakhines don’t want to recognize the
    name “Rohingya ” not because they want their real identity so as to
    give them “Nationality” but because once they become successful in
    branding them as Bengalis, it will become easier for them to drive them
    out of Arakan land. Ultimately, Junta’s dream of making Arakan into
    purely Burmanized Bhuddhist region will come true. Junta wants neither
    the people called Rakhines nor the people called Rohingyas. Thus, Juta
    has been setting up modal villages by bringing Bamars from central
    Burma. Rakhines are well aware of that. Some of the Rakhines
    simultaneuosly want to fight Junta on one side and Rohingyas on another
    side in order to have an independent land. It is a very wrong tactic.
    History has proven that. Hitler lost in the war because he fought Soviet
    Union on one side and English and French on another side.

    6) Furthermore, we think everybody knows Mexico and Argentina, people
    there are of spainish origin and speak spainish language. Why don’t
    people call them Spainish instead of Mexican and Argentinian? Americans
    speak English language and most them are of English. Why don’t people
    call them English in stead of Americans? The word “Rohingya” is a slight
    variation of the word “Ruahonga” (in Rakhine meaning “from old
    village”) because the place where Rohingyas used to live was called
    Ruahong. Rohingyas have the habit of calling someone by the place name
    where they live. For example, if somebody is from Man-Aung, he will be
    called as Man-Aunggya, if from RatheThaung, then RatheThaungya and if
    from ButhiTaung, then Buthi-Thaungya etc. The word Rohingya has formed
    exactly the way Rakhine has formed from Rakkhasha.

    7) I have learnt that during British Colonial period, migration from one
    place to another (within its colonised countries) was absolutely legal.
    Therefore, some members of Rohingyas might be immigrants but not
    illegal ones. Therefore, how can someone call them illegal immigrants as
    a whole?

    8) At the same time, one has to apply the same logic to the Rakhines as
    well. They also migrated from one place another during British time and
    it can’t be denied. And they are living both sides of the countries,
    Burma and Bangladesh. If they (the same Rakhines) can be citizens of
    both countries, why can’t Rohingyas be citizen of Burma? Why?

    9) During the time of the agreement between Aung San and Aktle, he (Aung
    San) promised that he would recognize everyone as citizen of Burma who
    were living within its territory. How can someone today revoke Aung
    San’s agreement?

    10) Besides, one should not forget that Chittagong region of Bangladesh
    and Arakan of Myanmar were combined and one land used to rule by the
    same rulers. It is not strange if one finds similarities among the
    people of Arakan and Chittagong region. Besides the people called
    Rohingyas, Chakmas (Thaks) and Baruas also speak a Chittagonian dialect
    and similar cultures with the people of Chittagong. How could you (our
    honorable historian Dr. Aye Chan) deliberately and conveniently leave it
    out in your speeches and books while you point out the similarities
    between Rohingyas and Chittagonians?

    11) Besides, Rohingyas are being branded as Chittagonian Bengalis
    because there are some similarities between their languages. Similarly,
    Rakhines look like Bamsa, their language is almost same to Bama Language
    and they worship same religion. Should we call there were no Rakhines
    in history but Bamas. You people call Rakhines are a different ethnic
    people. How can we believe that? You also need to check up your DNAs to
    confirm your distinct and different ethnicity (Rakines) from Bamas. Will
    you do that?

    12) In history, Rohingya didn’t feel to call them as Rohingya because
    the situation and the time had not forced them to call so. It doesn’t
    mean that this people didn’t exist before. So, if someone says there is
    no word as Rohingya in the history of Arakan, then there is no word as
    Rakhine either.

    13) Some people like Mike here claim that Muslims in Arakan cannot be
    nationals of Myanmar simply because they can’t speak Burmese. One would
    be wrong to say so because the educated Muslims in Arakan can speak
    Burmese fluently. Some of the Rakhines in rural areas of Maung Daw can’t
    speak Burmese either but they speak Rakhine language which is a
    different dialect of Burmese Language. Besides, some of Kachins, Chins
    etc can’t speak Burmese. And some my relatives back to Mon state can’t
    speak Burmese fluently. Are not they citizens of Myanmar? This fact
    cannot be a judgmental factor in deciding the nationality of the people
    in Myanmar.

    As far as I am concerned, many Rohingyas in Arakan can’t speak Burmese
    because these people are locked mostly in northern Arakan and there are
    no proximity and close relationships between Bamars and these people.
    Many of them cannot find a single Bamar to speak with. So, how can they
    speak Burmese? We have to think logically rather than on arbitrary
    basis. But those (Rohingyas) people who have close relationships with
    local Rakhines can speak Rakhine fluently. The worse thing is that even
    many high school students in Maung Daw and Buthidaung cannot speak
    Burmese fluently because they are, in their schools, taught in local
    Rakhine dialect even though the books are in Burmese language.

    Let’s put some arguments regarding this language factor whether or not
    it affects one’s nationality in other countries of today’s modern world.
    In India, most of the people like Tamils, Telugus, Malayalams, Tulus
    etc don’t even know what the (official) Hindi language is let alone
    speaking it. Are not they citizens of India? In Bangladesh, people in
    southern regions cannot properly speak original Bengali language. Are
    not they citizens of Bangladesh? In China, Mandarin and Cantonese are
    two different languages and there are many more on top of that. In spite
    of that, are not all they Chinese and citizens of China? In Thailand,
    people in southern part cannot properly speak Thai. Does it mean that
    they are not citizens of Thailand? In Malaysia, despite the very close
    relationships between Malays and Chinese, Chinese can’t properly speak
    Malay. As all know, Chinese are citizens of Malaysia. I wonder why only
    Myanmar has so many problems like this. Therefore, it is the high time
    to stop thinking stereotypically and think out of the box.

    14) It is really ridiculous that people like MIke refer Wikipedia to
    back up what they say. It shows who and what they are! Besides, many of
    our people like Mike here call all Rohingyas terrorists as a whole. On
    what basis (Wikileaks???)? [This information sent to US in 2002 by US
    embassy in Yangon was provided by the former MI (Military Inteeligence)
    supervised by ex-general Khin Nyunt, who has been long knowns as
    anti-Rohingyas] May be because their scholars dress like Arabs or
    Indians? What is the definition of the terrorist? It is quite natural
    that, when one is severely persecuted, made unemployed and restricted
    access to modern education, he or she might have tendency to behave like
    a terrorist or join terrorist gangs. Just like when someone is kept
    starved without any food, he or she will eat anything to survive. Who is
    responsible for that? Shouldn’t our government give them a good
    education to leave the way of extremism instead of killing them (human
    beings). So far, no terrorism occurred in Arakan because of them. All
    are baseless and wrong-propaganda spread by the state-sponsored media.
    No International Media or Independent Observers are given access to the
    region where the riot has been taking place. Therefore,the only
    terrorists there, I think, are the Military. In this riot, neither
    Rakhines nor Rohingyas are clean winners but the Military themselves
    that again made people believe that only the military can protect the

    15) I feel Rohingyas who are of Indo-Arayan descendants (i.e. Indian
    origins) are hated by many bigots in Myanmar just because they look
    different from mainstream of people (who are of mongoloid origin) and
    practice a different religion.

    I have just put a logical argument here. I don’t expect people to bluff
    here just because they have the mouths but to answer my points.

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