Army Restores Calm in Meikhtila after Deadly Sectarian Clashes

Army trucks line up along a road in downtown Meikhtila on March 23. For more photos click on the box below. (Photo: Teza Hlaing / The Irrawaddy )

MEIKHTILA—Smoldering debris and charred buildings littered the Muslim quarter of Meikhtila in central Burma on Saturday as the army was brought in to end days of violence.

Relative calm returned to the town on Saturday after the army was brought in to patrol the streets following nearly three days of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims, which left an unconfirmed number of people dead.

Security forces escorted about 6,000 Muslims to a stadium in the town where they were being held.

The football stadium, located nearly two miles from the center of Meikhtila, has been turned into a makeshift camp, where the Muslims have made temporary shelters from tarpaulin and thatch.

“I don’t even know how to express my fear when I learned about what happened to my fellow Muslims,” said Kyaw Zwa, a Muslim man staying the camp.

Kyaw Zwa said he and his 12-member family had arrived at the camp on Friday.

His story is unlike many others. His family was protected by a group of Buddhists from the marauding Buddhist mob that ransacked Muslim shops and burned bodies, dumping them in the streets.

He and his family were escorted to the camp by two Buddhist monks.

Though conditions in the camp were not bad, it is unclear when food will arrive.

The chief minister of Mandalay Division said the camp would have adequate food supplies for one week and medical care was being provided.

But there was little food at the camp on Saturday morning, although private citizens had donated supplies to the Muslims.

“All I can say now is we are in big trouble. The government must take action to bring to justice anyone, whether Buddhists or Muslims, who caused the problem.”

US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was deeply concerned about communal violence, loss of life and property damage in Meikhtila, and US Ambassador Derek Mitchell raised concerns with senior Burmese government officials.

“We welcome and encourage the efforts of government authorities, community leaders, civil society and political party leaders to restore calm, to foster dialogue and increase tolerance in a manner that respects human rights and due process of law,” Nuland told reporters in Washington.

An Irrawaddy reporter in Meikhtila on Saturday said there were no clashes on Saturday morning and that the town felt like it was returning to normal.

President Thein Sein on Friday afternoon declared a state of emergency, encouraging local security forces to call in the army to take control of Meikhtila, which is about 150 km south of Mandalay.

The clashes reportedly began when an argument broke out in a gold dealer’s shop between the Muslim owner and a Buddhist customer.

The official death toll stood at 11 on Saturday, but the actual number is probably much higher. A local businessman in the town told Al Jazeera he had counted 28 bodies and most estimated casualty figures are in the dozens.

Thirteen “religious buildings and one government office building” were destroyed, according to the Ministry of Information, including five mosques.

A local resident in Meikhtila told The Irrawaddy he had witnessed 60 trucks carrying troops heading to the town.

“Seven army trucks have been patrolling across the town every two hours since this morning,” said Kay Oo May, another resident and the founder of the Young Buddhist Association in Meikhtila.

One of the Irrawaddy reporters reporting out of Meikhtila said, “It’s very sad to behold. I feel as if I were in a ruined city.”

Irrawaddy reporters Teza Hlaing and Mantha Lay in Meikhtila contributed to this story.


13 Responses to Army Restores Calm in Meikhtila after Deadly Sectarian Clashes

  1. Now let us give credit to Army as maintainer of peace . This is the things they want. They allowed extremist monk to go around the country to give hate speech. The extremist monk is very good friend of notorious Khin Nyunt. Khin Nyunt recently was shown with Shwe Mann. So something was, is going fishy. They have cooked the plan. DASSK said police could not control because of lack of experiences. But police asked Muslims to keep their hands up while Monk and Buddhist people were going freely with sticks, stones in their hands. Same pattern was in Rakine state.

  2. Now,where are these roiters and so call monks, Military is only solution for that kind of anarchy.When the nation is newly independent and democracy,Insted of built the nation to better,people try to abuse the democracy and finally we we lost the democracy and freedom,PLEASE GO BACK TO LOOK AT THE PAST!

  3. Burma needs to learn a lot about how to live harmoniously among different races. United States, India and some other advanced countries are the good examples. There will be no U.S today if there is frequent racial fights and they are not allowed to happen. Police services are prompt. It’s easier to control a few individuals rather than an unruly mob. Quick action in this kind of case is critical. Harsh penalty should be given to those started it.

  4. Both Buddhist and Muslim are loser in such situation. Minority will suffer more for sure, but majority can not get away without any lose because no human being will die idle. Get the real culprit who instigated that. We listened one so called monk was delivering anti Muslim speech. Govt must go after him if Thein Sein really wish to govern the country for all. Otherwise, yesterday Arakan, today Meikhtila and tmrw another town and the day after tmrw another town —- till all Muslims are finished and after that these racist will go after another religion such as Hindu, Christian and so on until Burma becomes a only Buddhist country. Then all overseas Burmese will suffer.

  5. There has been no sectarian clashes !!! All it is – is that some Government/military people wants to fabricate ethnic religious problems in order to destabilize the country so martial law can be declared paving the way for the army to take over.

  6. Why do we often see ‘monks’ involved in the riot? Even if it’s a religious fight, they should not be seen in the front line. Let all the believers or followers do the job. They lose dignity every time it happens. Soon, people will dislike them. They want to be a part of the politics so we will call them ‘fake monk’ or trouble makers..

  7. Hooligan or thug will be more appropriate in describing ‘the monks’. It takes two to tango, so the Burmese majority should try to understand the Muslim’s culture or tradition. ‘Live and let live’ means ‘let them live their life and we live our own life’. Try to remember their good points and forget their bad points. Always stay positive. As a Buddhist, we all believe in ‘Met ta’. Let ‘met ta’ rule.

  8. The government should be aware that there are still trouble makers around to make up race riot so that the mob could take the other people’s properties free by looting. There wasn’t a proper national security. The government should know how national security is in first priority. It took more than 48 hours the Army to arrive to calm the situation after many people died and homeless. If it is in Western country, the government never let it happens not more than minutes. Within minutes the police forece took place and controlled the situation to void killing and destroying. The Army only arrived on Saturday despite request of help for national security was immediately demanded by muslims. Muslims went to urge to 99 Army force but because of public government they don’t do anything unless the President makes order. The muslims went to seek help from Police force but not success. Police scared that their Police station would be destroyed by mob. Now lack of effective national security innocent children and families died. Who is paying for this? People were building peoperties and own businesses more than years but they lost the fortune. Who is taking responsibility to compensate of this. A group of mob or the government? NIB or CID are everywhere in the country and cann’t they pick up and investigate who are these people to destroy the government or to destroy the peaceful nation? Burma is not a killing fields.

  9. Agree with Joe Sein above. It is high time that the authorities ceased pussyfooting around the problem of agitators in monks’ robes. It seems from various news reports that they are to blame for instigating the riots in Meikhtila. Whereas the average Buddhist generally co-exists peacefully with neighbors of a different religion, these troublemakers inciting violence can in no way be considered Buddhists. I have noticed over many years of visiting Myanmar that the better educated are able to distinguish between the vast majority of sincere Buddhist monks and believers and the opportunists hiding behind their robes to pursue their own ends. That these ends should be to cause mayhem and deaths is shameful, but equally so is the tolerance extended to them as the tension increases to an explosion of violence. One can hope that these agitators can be identified and punished in the here and now, but even if not, they will fall low enough in their next life to be out of harm’s way for many, many human lives to come.

  10. This is ridicules. We all suffer under the same military rules before and we all called ‘home’ to the same country. Why are these so called Buddhists making country going downhill instead of making it better?
    Do we want to present ourselves among an international community as bully who attack the minority for no obvious reason, only because they don’t follow our own believe in term of religion? While a lot of citizens are hoping for better future since country is going right path, these people are sending back our future to the time we were under military rules. These people needs to be punished severely no matter who they are or no matter what religion they follow.
    Remember, Buddha didn’t teach us or guide us to kill, destroy or harm other people. Please don’t use the religion that so pure as excuse for your own violence.

  11. Agree with MWT and regular visitor. It is ridiculous. We do not know what was hidden agenda of this riot is? Burma has top CID, NIB and investigation board everywhere in the country. Cann’t they do something about it? Why attackers are spreading to Yamethin too? If the government cann’t stop it, that government should not be in the position of tackling reforms either. Somebody should resign from the service. If I were them, if I couldn’t handle it in proper way, then I must resign for the sake of saving innocent public’s lives putting into dangerous situation. I believe the International community should put pressure to save people. If the government wants to catch these mobs, I can see that they can do it within minutes. Why istaking so long to do so? Are they waiting until all Muslims to be killed? If Muslims fought back, the government will accuse Muslims as terrorists. What about these Buddghist terrorists ( mobs )? I felt that the government kept silence. This is not democracy, is it? I felt that these mobs must be punshied to death sentance as they murdered innocent people. They must not live.

  12. There is no greater joy in the kingdom of darkness than when one godly person reviles another.

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