Root Out the Source of Meikhtila Unrest

A question popped up immediately after anti-Muslim rioting began in Meikhtila Township of central Burma last week: “Who is behind the unrest?”

A series of riots that started in Meikhtila and later spread to Pegu Division have taken at least 40 lives and destroyed many houses, buildings and mosques. As victims were killed, dead bodies scorched and buildings ransacked, many onlookers began to believe the violence had been systematically orchestrated.

A general hypothesis is that someone powerful must have been responsible. On the streets in Rangoon, pedestrians can be heard whispering more specific speculations. “Khin Nyunt [ex- chief of the former regime’s military intelligence unit] might be behind it,” one pedestrian said of the recent unrest. “Sandar Win [the daughter of late dictator Ne Win] got involved in plotting this rioting,” another alleged. And, “How about Aung Thaung and other hardliners in the military-backed, ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party?”

In past decades, many Burmese people believed rulers of the Socialist and military regimes used religious tension as a political weapon to distract the public from anti-government movements. When opposition protests took place, religious riots often occurred as well, and many were convinced this was no simple coincidence. Today, with the Meikhtila violence, people are coming to the same conclusion.

I raised a similar question earlier this week in Naypyidaw when I met Ye Htut, the deputy minister of information and a spokesman for the President’s Office.

He answered: “I think a group of people acted as instigators but then disappeared after managing to spread rumors and spark [the clashes]. Only those who were emotional and wanted to loot remained. Rumors have been systematically circulated.”

Kyaw Zwa Moe is editor (English Edition) of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]

But when asked whether the unrest could have been deliberately instigated by hardliners in the ruling party who oppose President Thein Sein’s current reforms, Ye Htut, a former military official, quickly denied the possibility.

“That’s impossible,” he told me. “The possible group [behind the unrest] would be those who don’t like the political trends that [opposition leader] Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is applying.”

Ye Htut added that in the D-Wave Journal, published by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, the Nobel Peace laureate recently wrote that she believed Burma was currently in a state of nation-building, not revolution.

“Personally, I think some remaining groups in exile which can’t accept her political strategy were likely behind it [the riots],” the president’s spokesman said.

On Thursday evening, Thein Sein said in a televised address that his government would not stand by and watch the riots continue. “I would like to warn all political opportunists and religious extremists who try to exploit the noble teachings of these religions and have tried to plant hatred among people of different faiths for their own self-interest: Their efforts will not be tolerated.”

The president added: “Individual freedom, which we consider to be a fundamental ingredient of democracy, can only mean freedom that does not infringe on the civil liberties of others. Our Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to worship freely any religion they choose.”

These days in Rangoon, it is not uncommon to see monks and other individuals stirring up intolerance by distributing pamphlets, CDs and DVDs of radical Buddhist speeches to cars stopped at traffic lights. Their materials are all labeled with “969,” the name of a newly surfaced campaign against Muslim minorities in the country. In 969, the first 9 stands for the nine special attributes of the Buddha; the 6 for the six special attributes of his Dhamma, or Buddhist teachings; and the last 9 for the nine special attributes of Buddhist monks.

In Pegu Division, the name 969 has been spray-painted on the walls of destroyed buildings, mosques and vehicles in ransacked townships. On some cars and taxis, 969 stickers can also be seen. Many people in the country believe members of the 969 movement sparked the anti-Muslim riots.

But U Wirathu, a leading monk of the movement, denied accusations that 969 was a religious extremist group. “We’ve just become scapegoats because no culprits were found after the Meikhtila riots,” he said over the phone. “Within our circle, 969 is not violent.”

Although fingers have been pointed in different directions, almost everyone in Burma seems to agree that someone, or some group, is responsible for instigating the recent riots. Now, responsibility falls on the government to investigate and take action against the political opportunists or religious extremists behind this unrest. Only then can Thein Sein and other leaders uphold their reputation for reform and prove they are really sincere about bringing positive change to Burma.

12 Responses to Root Out the Source of Meikhtila Unrest

  1. Well the players may have changed but the game is still the same. When things seems to be heading the right direction there appeared out of nowhere the forces causing disruptions. Who could called themselves Buddhists (including those monks) when they could not uphold the five precepts.No wonder Buddha has said that his ‘sarsana’ will be brought to destruction by his own sons. One does not becomes a Buddhist or Christian or Muslim by not living by the moral code that religion prescribed.

  2. Sorry, we still have the fox in charge of the chickens. Ye Htut is talking through his hat and putting the blame on dissident groups that have fallen out with ASSK. Is there any? Many have already defected to the ruling elite to serve as their minions, and gurus or at least that’s what they think like a certain famous lady.

    If we are serious about rooting out the source, let’s put all our efforts together to overthrow this reincarnation of the dictatorship.

  3. We may never find out who is behind the appalling atrocities in this anti-muslim riots. Real democracy encompasses the right to practice the religion of choice. How about showing some respect and tolerance for other religions? People have been chanting the word democracy all along but there is a big void in the understanding of the word.

    I really feel sad to see some Buddhist monks participating in this turmoil and felt the world has gone awry. In times of riots, a herd mentality follows suit as is true with any other nation in the world. This is a hindrance in the march to reshape and restructure the country.

    Myanmar has become the melting pot with different kinds of problems which constitute major challenges in the years ahead.

    May our country rises up to face new challenges and bears tolerance for other races and religions.

  4. Can not rule out A.T, hard liners, or U.S.D.A. elements. A. T & sons are filthy rich and powerful, just like Iraq’s
    Former dictator Saddam & sons. They are the ‘untouchable’ of Myanmar.

  5. Strongly agree with the writers view.

  6. “Personally, I ( Yet Htut) think some remaining groups in exile which can’t accept her political strategy were likely behind it [the riots],” the president’s spokesman said.
    Yet Htut is lair and his statement is rubbish. Check than shwe and his military thugs and Yet Htut will find the cause or culprit to stir up this unrest to divert the opposition to Than shwe puppet bama military thugs government.

  7. Well Khin Nyunt did pop out the weekend before the riots though that really means nothing at all he might be only an innocent bystander. What about the reporter that followed and filmed Khin Nyunt were they signalling? Maybe they were the real culprits or was there another who gave them the tip. Who made the camera, maybe Sony which could in turn implicate Japan.

    Social Engineering

    We could also blame lack of secular education. Those committing these crimes are far from well educated. The front line troops no more than stooges.

    Myanmar is making a great transition. In the years it has been isolated the world has become a much smaller place.

    This most recent fighting between Muslims and Buddhists is nothing more than a diversion.

    The real game changer is the Shwe pipeline and the plan to sell deep water blocks in April.

    The USA is not about to let China own these blocks in addition to owning the Pipeline. The USA is going to still want to be able to control the energy flow into China which it can do by drilling the oil and gas from the deep water blocks.

    As for who is responsible for the riots. Ask a simple question about who got left out of the loop. In summary:

    Who did not get paid?

  8. Who can do such well planned series of destructive events in Burma this year ?

    No doubt about that there is nobody, but a group of hardliners within the ruling party member who are rich, powerful and influenced over the local authorities.

    They are now testing President Thein Sein and DASSK’s strength in the defense of rules of law and moving democracy and reformed process in Burma.

    Sadly, many people lives have been sacrificed for such test.

  9. Nay Pyi Taw is the root. They all need to go back to their barracks.

  10. To divert people focus from Gas, mineral and compensation for farmland, cunning Military stooge used Muslims as soft target. People who could burn Monks, refused help for Nargis victims would go any extend to keep their interests intact.

  11. We should organize a group of political experts to discuss this matter on air as to make the people of Burma realize the root-cause of recent riots in Meikhtila.

  12. People who support China’s role in Burma might be another possibility of the root-cause of recent riots in Meikhtila.

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