Anti-Muslim Violence Finally Subsides in Central Burma

A mosque in Meikthila sustained major smoke damage after it was set a light during anti-Muslim riots on March 20-22. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON—No major anti-Muslim attacks have been reported in central Burma since Friday and the unrest seems to have subsided after nine consecutive days of violence in Mandalay and Pegu Divisions, police and Muslim leaders said.

Haj. Aye Lwin, chief convener of the Islamic Center of Myanmar, said he had heard of no incidents in the 11 townships in Mandalay and Pegu Division that were affected after riots first erupted on March 20 in Meikhtila town.

“After President Thein Sein delivered his public speech the situation became quiet,” the Muslim leader said on Monday.

Thein Sein held a speech last Thursday in which he warned that the government would not hesitate to use force to quell the unrest, which he claimed was being orchestrated by “political opportunists and religious extremists.”

Although the speech was welcomed, the government’s lack of effective protection for Muslim minority communities during the riots has been criticized. A UN rights envoy alleged that some state actors were in fact complicit in the anti-Muslim violence as they failed to stop attacks happening “in front of their very eyes.”

Aye Lwin said hundreds of Muslims residents who had fled the smaller towns in Pegu Division had left. “Many Muslim residents from Okpho and Gyobingauk townships arrived in Rangoon and these people will go back when the situation becomes stable,” he said.

Tha Aye, another representative of the Islamic Center of Myanmar, said it had been quiet in the previously affected townships, although he heard of one minor incident in Pegu Division.

“A small group of people came out in Paung Tea Township at 10 pm and used some slingshots to scare Muslim residents,” he said.

A Muslim resident of Okpho town said by phone that the dusk-till-dawn curfew there had been relaxed and the main market had been reopened. But he added, “Not one shop owned by Muslim people is open, and there were some who have run away from the town.”

Security forces were deployed in Okpho’s town center and authorities were cleaning up parts of the damaged mosques so that Muslim residents could use the building.

“We do not have places to pray and they burned down everything belonging to us. We don’t even have enough clothes to wear,” said the Muslim man, who declined to be named for fear of his safety. “They are cleaning rubble from the mosques; they say we will have a space to pray again.”

However, authorities were leaving it unclear whether the Islamic community would receive support for rebuilding their shops and mosques, said the man, who added, “I did not see the government take any action against the rioters.”

Aye Lwin, of the Islamic Center of Myanmar, said authorities were also blocking Rangoon-based Muslim groups from delivering aid in Okpho and Gyobingauk townships. “If we want to donate to victims in the town, we have to hand the aid to the township authorities who will distribute it,” he said.

Aye Lwin said the government should prosecute those who were responsible for orchestrating the violence and help rebuild destroyed Muslim building, shops and mosques.

On the weekend the government attempted to reconcile Buddhists and the Muslim minority in Burma by organizing a meeting of dozens of leaders of the two religions at the Myanmar Peace Center in Rangoon.

U Wirathu, a fire-brand nationalist Buddhist monk who has been accused of stoking anti-Islamic sentiments, was also present.

“We [Muslim leaders] told him [U Wirathu] that if anything is unclear about Muslim culture, please let us know because we want to explain it,” Aye Lwin said, adding, “The Quran does not allow violence.”

According to government figures, a total of 43 people were killed and 93 were hospitalized in the riots, while 1,227 homes, 77 shops and 37 mosques were destroyed. The UN said almost 13,000 people, mostly Muslims, have been displaced in Meikhtila.

On Monday, a senior officer at Meikhtila Police Station said security forces maintained a heavy presence in the town, which is under a state of emergency.

“It is peaceful already and we detained 30 people, while more than 30 people have been charged and they face lawsuits at the court,” said the officer, who declined to be named as he was unauthorized to speak to the media.

Asked if any ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks were among the detained in Meikhtila, he said, “We don’t care about the suspects’ religion. But no monks have been detained.”

A local resident said that Meikthila’s market had been reopened in the past two days, although Muslim-owned shops remained closed.


9 Responses to Anti-Muslim Violence Finally Subsides in Central Burma

  1. Burmese Government is using Withura to cool down the hatred he engulfed in the hearts of some Burmese Buddhist. One thing wonder, why he is so good with Khin Nyunt, Khin Ye and Aung Thaung.

  2. 30 people will be released shortly due to lack of evidence,

  3. Thein Sein held a speech last Thursday in which he warned that the government would not hesitate to use force to quell the unrest, which he claimed was being orchestrated by “political opportunists and religious extremists.”

    Thein sein should hold a speech earlier or on the day of killing Muslim.

    “Aye Lwin, of the Islamic Center of Myanmar, said authorities were also blocking Rangoon-based Muslim groups from delivering aid in Okpho and Gyobingauk townships. “If we want to donate to victims in the town, we have to hand the aid to the township authorities who will distribute it,” he said.
    It is true and copied from previous China. Every donation from rich Muslim countries will go to than shwe’s pocket directly before reaching victims. It is bama military thugs’ usual practices and making money unethically.

  4. Apparently this riot is the clash between Muslim Indians and local Burmese. I don’t understand why the oversea media keeps referring to as “Anti-Muslim”. The media especially such as Irrawaddy should not use this term. You should have understood the consequences of using such term given that Muslims are the people with least tolerance among other religions. For God’s sake, please use the term “Riots” or “Clash between Muslim and Burmese”..it is not “Anti-Muslims”. Or if you have hard evidence that Myanmar government is behind such violence blame them directly. Do not drag peaceful Buddhism into this.

  5. Thein Sein’s Govt shall rebuild all destroyed properties and also must pay compensation for deads. Then only we can say he is doing a job for all.

  6. What the hell you people try to comment ? Every citizen in Myanmar know how to live and how to survive , you guys try to put fire on internet , you are traitor , if you not satisfied please come forward , we want to wait and see how you handle situation , enough is enough . We are Myanmar citizen , we know what to do and how to settle , don’t be hero on internet , you want to do something , please come over Yangon and you will know , we are not American or European or not Afghanistan . Think about it !

  7. joe, i appreciate your comment. anyone can be behind all the turmoil … fingerpointing won’t solve the problem, even foreign relief is useless. burmese people, irrespective of race or religion know how to rebuild and reconcile. peacebuilding cannot be difficult if we just tried to analyse how it all happened and forgive and forget each other. there is no valour, no heroism to point fingers and continue the endless enmity. thanks.

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