Muslims Vanish as Buddhist Attacks Approach Burma’s Biggest Cities

Muslim men pray at Meikhtila’s mosque in February. On March 20, riots would destroy the building and thousands of Muslims would flee the town. (Photo: Geoffrey Hiller)

SIT KWIN, PEGU DIVISION—The Muslims of Sit Kwin were always a small group who numbered no more than 100 of the village’s 2,000 people. But as sectarian violence led by Buddhist mobs spreads across central Burma, they and many other Muslims are disappearing.

Their homes, shops and mosques destroyed, some end up in refugee camps or hide in the homes of friends or relatives. Dozens have been killed.

“We don’t know where they are,” says Aung Ko Myint, 24, a taxi driver in Sit Kwin, a farming village where on Friday Buddhists ransacked a store owned by the town’s last remaining Muslim. “He escaped this morning just before the mob got here.”

Since 42 people were killed in violence that erupted in Meikhtila town on March 20, unrest led by hardline Buddhists has spread to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Burma, with the latest incidents only about a two-hour drive from the commercial capital, Rangoon.

The crowds are fired up by anti-Muslim rhetoric spread over the Internet and by word of mouth from monks preaching a movement known as “969”. The three numbers refer to various attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood. But it has come to represent a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism which urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim-run shops and services.

Burma is predominantly Buddhist but about 5 percent of its 60 million people are Muslims. There are large Muslim communities in Rangoon, Mandalay and towns across Burma’s heartland where the religions have co-existed for generations.

But as violence spreads from village to village, the unleashing of ethnic hatred, suppressed during 49 years of military rule that ended in March 2011, is challenging the reformist government of one of Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries.

Dusk-to-dawn curfews are in effect in many areas of Pegu Division, the region where Sit Kwin lies, while four townships in central Burma are under a state of emergency imposed last week.

“I will not hesitate to use force as a last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of the general public,” President Thein Sein said in a nationally televised speech on Thursday, warning “political opportunists and religious extremists” against instigating further violence.

The unrest has made almost 13,000 people homeless, according to the United Nations. State-run media reports 68 people have been arrested.

RUMOURS

The trouble in Sit Kwin began four days ago when people riding 30 motorbikes drove through town urging villagers to expel Muslim residents, said witnesses. They then trashed a mosque and a row of Muslim shops and houses.

“They came with anger that was born from rumours,” said one man who declined to be identified.

Further south, police in Letpadan have stepped up patrols in the farming village of 22,000 people about 160 km (100 miles) from Rangoon.

Three monks led a 30-strong group towards a mosque on Friday. Police dispersed the crowd, many of whom carried knives and staves, and briefly detained two people. They were later released at the request of township officials, police said.

“I won’t let it happen again,” said police commander Phone Myint. “The president yesterday gave the police authority to control the situation.”

The abbot who led the protest, Khamainda, said he took to the streets after hearing rumors passed by other monks by telephone, about violence between Buddhists and Muslims in other towns. He said he wanted revenge against Muslims for the destruction by the Taliban of Buddhist statues in Bamiyan province in Afghanistan in 2001.

“There is no problem with the way they live. But they are the minority and we are the majority. And when the minority insults our religion we get concerned,” he told Reuters. “We will come out again if we get a chance.”

Letpadan villagers fear the tension will explode. “I’m sure they will come back and destroy the mosque,” says Aung San Kyaw, 35, a Muslim. “We’ve never experienced anything like this.”

Across the street, Hla Tan, a 67-year-old Buddhist, shares the fear. “We have lived peacefully for years. Nothing can happen between us unless outsiders come. But if they come, I know we can’t stop them,” he said.

North of Sit Kwin, the farming town of Minhla endured about three hours of violence on both Wednesday and Thursday.

About 300 people, many from the nearby village of Ye Kyaw, gathered on Wednesday afternoon. The crowd swelled to about 800 as townsfolk joined, a Minhlapoliceman told Reuters. They then destroyed three mosques and 17 shops and houses, he said. No Buddhist monks were involved, said witnesses.

“VERY NERVOUS”

The mob carried sticks, metal pipes and hammers, said Hla Soe, 60, a Buddhist who runs an electrical repair shop in Minhla. “No one could stop them,” he said.

About 200 soldiers and police eventually intervened to restore a fragile peace. “I’m very nervous that it will happen again,” he said.

About 500 of Minhla’s township’s 100,000 people are Muslims, said the police officer, who estimated two-thirds of those Muslims had fled.

However, Tun Tun is staying. “I have no choice,” says the 26-year-old, whose tea shop was destroyed and looted by Buddhists, one armed with a chainsaw.

He plans to rebuild his shop, whose daily income of 10,000 kyat ($11) supports an extended family of 12. On the wall of his ransacked kitchen is a portrait of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He did not believe she could do anything to help.

Tun Tun traced the rising communal tension in Minhla to speeches given on Feb. 26 and 27 by a celebrated monk visiting from Mon State, to the east of Rangoon. He spoke to a crowd of 2,000 about the “969 movement”, said Win Myint, 59, who runs a Buddhist community centre which hosted the monk.

After the 969 talks, Muslims were jeered and fewer Buddhists frequented his tea shop, said Tun Tun. Stickers bearing pastel hues overlaid with the numerals 969 appeared on non-Muslim street stalls across Minhla.

President Thein Sein’s ambitious reform programme has won praise, but his government has also been criticised for failing to stem violence last year in Arakan State in western Burma, where officials say 110 people were killed and 120,000 were left homeless, most of them Rohingya Muslims.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma said on Thursday he had received reports of “state involvement” in the recent violence at Meikhtila.

Soldiers and police sometimes stood by “while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well-organized ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs”, said the rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana. “This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the state or implicit collusion and support for such actions.”

Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and deputy minister of information, called those accusations “groundless”. “In fact, the military and the government could not be concerned more about this situation,” he said in a Facebook post.

Late on Friday, three monks were preparing to give another “969” speech in Ok Kan, a town 113 km (70 miles) from Rangoon.


14 Responses to Muslims Vanish as Buddhist Attacks Approach Burma’s Biggest Cities

  1. the Buddhist will paid the price the Muslim help are coming Burma will paid for it

  2. “Late on Friday, three monks were preparing to give another “969″ speech in Ok Kan, a town 113 km (70 miles) from Rangoon.”

    Then detain them FFS!!! How quick the state was to detain pro-democracy activists – including many monks – with the merest whiff of a pretext. And suddenly the state can’t do anything when individuals – I can’t bring myself to call them monks – are publicly planning incite violence? Disgusting and pathetic.

    If the authorities won’t do it, why aren’t human rights activists or genuine Buddhists disrupting these neo-Nazi meetings? Remember the Anti-Fascists People’s Freedom League?

  3. Could you please stop using Buddhists are attacking, killing, destroying, toruring etc. Muslims. Instead please use Burmese are ….ing, ….ing, ….ing, ….ing etc.We have never had religious clashes in our history but the communal clashes or sectarian violences.

  4. Since we all have witnessed the failure of the Thein Sein Administration, he and his cabinet members need to step down and transfer power to Daw Suu and her NLD which the public willingly will support for tranquility. Without public support, no government on earth successfully runs the nation. Rule of law will never happen in the rule of lawless leaders. The current regime is building our nation on muddy constitution. Constitution must be redrawn to be a solid foundation to build genuine democratic Union of Burma.

  5. Buddhism is not the problem, look at Buddhism in Thailand where it is a peaceful religion. I have been staying for a while now in MM and it is really unbelievable how the monks in this small town start waking up everybody at 5.30 am with their noise prayers and songs, everyday day over and over again. Also and during the day several times more they have to show that they are still there by switching on their noisy speakers. They are a majority in this beautiful country but they should at least consider that there are people that have another religion or maybe even none. By forcing up Buddhism this way upon people they should be aware of what happened in Europe; churches are empty now due to a very aggressive approach of the Catholic church. Young and modern people might have an interest in religion but in MM most of the monks seem to live 50 years ago when there was no internet, no computers or any other device to connect to other people and to the modern world. I hope they will wake up in MM before the majority of people will turn their backs on them.

  6. We have to find the real reasons behind recent communal violence in Myanmar .During the junta periods for last decades we haven’t heard of violence against Muslims across the country.Now as the country moves toward the more liberal system there may be some elements in the society testing the whole process for the specific political gains.heard of radical islamic movement in Myanmar and problem in the Phillipines? Be aware.

  7. Soldiers and police sometimes stood by “while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well-organized ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs”, said the rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana. “This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the state or implicit collusion and support for such actions.”
    I trust the above accusation.

    Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and deputy minister of information, called those accusations “groundless”. “In fact, the military and the government could not be concerned more about this situation,” he said in a Facebook post.
    The above “Yet Htut is liar and rubbish statement. Until now, government can not be able to identify who is the culprit to stir up this killing Muslim although there is a lot of video or photo proofs Irrawaddy have.

  8. I am very much worried about the hatred along the racial lines currently damaging the democratic direction of Burma. Who is the biggest terrorist in this world? The government is the right answer. We had all seen the terror reigns of Adolf Hitler, Adi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafffi to names a few. Do not forget Burma`s Ne Win, Than Shwe who had butchered citizens at wills. We got followers of Than Shwe still holding the power.
    Discrimination against race, religion, sex, sexual orientations, beliefs, skin colour and disability are cancerous killer of freedom and they are taboo in civilised country. We had seen Prime minister kicked out from office for simply calling Bigot to the voter during the important electioneering days.
    The rule of law will protect each and every citizens of Burma against all form of discriminations and harms. Muslim man killing a Buddhist is crime so does the Buddhists ransacking the properties of Moslems. The police and judicial systems can reach the criminals and deal without interferences from the politicians.
    The news and media watchdog will safeguard the weak from manipulation of majority.
    Some of the religious jihad are harming the democratic process carried out by quasi-civilian government. Do not forget that Than Shwe had given the order to the soldiers to take over the power from Thein sein government if the condition got out of hands. Do you remember Gan Ne Win`s statement to the country when he took over power in 1962. He said he had saved the country from falling down from the edge of the cliff. Indeed he had pushed Burma into Road-to-Ruin.
    What does the public want? Do you really want democracy in Burma. The moslem and Buddhist must hug each other to avoid martial laws and curfew now endangering Burma.

  9. Burmese saying says; “A yew bon myauk!”

    “When you pamper the mad idiots.”

    That is the reason of this most despicable and heinous social destruction and atrocities paving the way for even harsher and more devastating communal disorganization and violence for perpetuity.
    .
    Since the time of the treacherous about turn of Aung San Suu Kyi in August 2011 the so-called “International Communities” of politicians, academics, journalists and all sorts of famous people have been hard at work trying to “have” her- Burma. Like a bunch of south seas pirates suddenly happening on a helpless bosomy shipwreck teenager. Every one is now trying their damn-est to woo the girl in every which way they know. Putting on the front page of papers and magazines of select few people from Burma who have attracted pubic imagination, showering with promises, gifts and titles, kissing with the pinched nose….

    And unforgivably pardoning, and even encouraging, any and all the rule breaking s which involves most inhumane atrocities on hundreds of thousands of defenseless, innocent citizens of the country- being committed by their charge. The religious incitement is but only a partial segment of this sorry saga.

    And the chauvinism and sadism ingrained in people are now bared off the lid not by true liberalism but by the collusion of the previously seemingly decent societies now busy pandering the thugs. “A yew bon myauk”.

    Like a spoilt child with a Christmas present machine gun, now buoyant chauvinistic, thuggish segment of the populace, reflecting the ruling equally thuggish and chauvinistic government- (let’s drop the improbable/ unconvincing pretension of Thein Sein being a separate and isolated “GOOD” category and “the bad” are done by different department illusion) is unstoppable with or without the threat of the international Islamic community which is currently seemingly more intent on business deals/ or some ulterior motive than genuinely helping the disadvantaged.

    Only question now is, for their own selfish reason of getting entry to Burma for her riches, how much more or longer the “international Communities” are going to collude and pamper the “A yew’. It can only come back to bite them at the end. and the spark is growing already.

  10. The title is all wrong.

    It is not the Buddhists attacking, it is the trained mob inciting violence among Buddhist and Muslims.

    Please be responsible when reporting such sensitive matter.

  11. I think they’ll be an element that does not want democratic changes in Burma behind the recent violence. hardliners who are ex-officials in the former military government probably involve in the violence.

  12. Those buddhist terrorist led by some evil monks are desperate and so they kiils muslims..why still no solid condemnation by the UN and the burmeese government..empower the defence forces to shoot at sight..if they are failed brings international forces to ground all the terrorist monks asap..other wise if muslims are to taken arms buddhist terrorist would be wipe out from burma.

  13. George Than Setkyar Heine

    Jason Szep is NOT A JOURNALIST in the FIRST PLACE I say.
    His REPORT on the MATTER is IRRESPONSIBLE and AMOUNT to FANNING the ANTI-MUSLIM FLAME already ENGULFING BURMA today.
    The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma said on Thursday he had received reports of “state involvement” in the recent violence at Meikhtila.
    “Soldiers and police sometimes stood by “while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well-organized ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs”, said the rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana. “This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the state or implicit collusion and support for such actions” he said.
    Even Quintana KNOWS the ROOT CAUSE of the recent anti-Muslim riots in Burma if you don’t know yet.
    There is NO PROBLEM between the Burmese Buddhists and Burmese Muslims today of course.
    We have been LIVING in the country since CENTURIES until today for your information.
    And there would be NO MORE VIOLENCE of this MAGNITUDE and MASS in the future as well as long as the PEOPLE in BURMA (Buddhists and Muslims specifically) GET the IDEA – WHO IS BEHIND the CHAOS of course.
    Best bet for them is to KEEP CLOSE to ONE ANOTHER and ALWAYS KEEP in TOUCH as well from now on.
    Burmese Muslims are OUR BROTHERS and SISTERS born and bred in the UNION of BURMA UNLIKE the so-dubbed ROHINGYA FENCE JUMPERS from NEIGHBORING BANGLADESH lest you guys forget.
    SO STOP PITTING BUDDHISTS AGAINST MUSLIMS in BURMA to SUIT YOUR AGENDA and AIM – FANNING the ANTI-MUSLIM FLAME for a PITTANCE as well from SAUDI ARABIA and other Muslim countries in the world I say.

  14. Next will be between Maha Burmese and Chinese.

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