Muslims Fear for Their Lives as Flames Consume Burma Town Near Former Capital

The charred remains of a bicycle lie among the smouldering ruins of a district of Okkan town, near Rangoon, on Tuesday. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Pages of a Koran lay torn and spread on the ground outside two mosques in the town of Okkan, on the outskirts of Rangoon. At the Cho Bali mosque, Korans were dumped in a small well outside.

Down the road, a Muslim-owned shop lay in ruins while a crowd of about 100 Buddhist onlookers surveyed the scene. No help came for the victims of Burma’s latest round of inter-communal violence. They were left to pick up the pieces of their trashed possessions.

The anti-Muslim violence erupted at 9am on Tuesday, locals say, when a Muslim woman hit a novice monk on her bicycle, spilling his food on the ground. The woman allegedly refused to apologize for the accident.

Shwe Nya War Sayadaw, a respected local monk, said he had asked the mobs to end the violence.

“We cannot let them do this because this will destroy democracy in our country,” he told The Irrawaddy. “I think people are watching this violence and they will have a  military coup when the situation is out of control.”

At 2pm on Tuesday, Tin Maung Than, a Muslim shop owner, watched as a Buddhist mob stole fruit juice from his family-owned store, shouting “let’s destroy the property of Muslims,” before ransacking his shop.

Some of the attackers were known to Tin Maung Than, local Buddhists from Okkan. But others, he says, were from elsewhere. As The Irrawaddy interviewed the shop owner, he pointed out three people in the street he said were involved in the attack.

Tin Maung Than’s wife, San Htay, is Buddhist. The family has lived in Okkan for more than 50 years. Their three children only know the town as home.

San Htay was the first to face down rioters, pleading with them to spare the shop. Her son was beaten and is missing, she says.

“I do not think this is religious violence,” Tin Maung Than said. “It is just violence against a minority here.”

San Htay showed The Irrawaddy photographs of her missing son, a monk in Okkan. The family says they have a deep respect of Buddhism and Buddhists.

“I respect Buddhists. I did not insult them, but still they have destroyed my shop,” she said.

Another ten minutes down the road, a dozen small huts lie in ashes.

A family hiding in the ruins of their former home told The Irrawaddy how a mob had attacked them.

“When they came to our hut, they shouted that they wanted to kill all Muslims,” said Moe Lay, a Muslim woman. “Then I took my children and ran to hide in a bush. We saw them burn down our hut.”

The rioters also released all of the family’s cattle.

“We do not know where we can find our cows,” Moe Lay said. “We are worried that the rioters will kill us if we go out to search for our cows.”

Moe Lay’s younger brother, Kyaw Naing, said the family felt powerless in the face of the attack.

“We could not do anything to fight them when they arrived, we just had to save out lives because they were too many.”

Hundreds of police have now been deployed in the area, but the victims said no police had come to help them.

“No police have offered to help us yet. What can we do if the rioters come back? We will just have to run away again,” Moe Lay added.

Tin Maung Than also had to run for his life.

“When they came to my shop, I first hid on the second floor,” he said. “Then, when I saw they were destroying everything, I went to the roof”

“I wailed from the rooftop for someone to help me. Eventually, my neighbors rescued me. They didn’t tell the mob about me, but I don’t know if I have good neighbors or not. I could be killed.”


15 Responses to Muslims Fear for Their Lives as Flames Consume Burma Town Near Former Capital

  1. “Shwe Nya War Sayadaw, a respected local monk, said he had asked the mobs to end the violence.”
    Shwe Nya war sayadaw tells the true fact with brave heart. I hope he is safe and sound.

  2. “town of Okkan, on the outskirts of Rangoon”
    Oak-Kan is not outskirt of Rangoon. Oak-Kan is located in Pegu Division and there are many towns between Oak-Kan and Rangoon. Rangoon is in Rangoon Division.

    Anyway, I do not want to see Burma becoming some kind of Muslim countries where Muslim practices zero tolerate to other religions. Some Muslims lacking of respect to other religions is becoming major problem in Burma and other countries. Also Buddhist Burmese is less tolerating in religion insult since Rakhine communal riot. The religion is very sensitive matter. I never discus about my religion believe with my friends who are follower of other faith. We need to respect other religions.
    The Muslim woman if she had apology and help to collect “Tha-Bake” to Monk and then no more problem will occur for accident. In Buddhists view, it looks like she intentionally hit the Monk because her behavior was unapologetic and rude.
    Leaders of Muslim community should advice their fellow Muslims for how to behave when they have incident with Buddhist Monks. Also Buddhist Monks should teach young Monks and Buddhists for tolerate and forgiveness to other religions’ faith follower for their disrespect behavior to Buddhism. Buddhist believes in Karma and Karma wills take-care peoples’ good deeds and bad deeds. We do not need to revenge or attack on whole Muslims community for some Muslims’ offensive behavior.
    Some of peoples who are anti-Muslim should be stopped hatred to Muslim from now.
    Religion communal riot will destabilize nation and it will distract Burmese democratic reform.
    Burma can not afford to lose the opportunity for democratic reform which we are waiting for more than half century. Please, solve the problem peacefully way if there any incident happens between Buddhist and Muslim.

    • Mr. Kan,
      A mistake made by a Muslim woman does not reflect the whole Muslim society at all. Punishing many innocent Muslims because of one woman’s ignorance makes no sense. To me, Burmese thugs are more ignorant than that Muslim woman accidentally hit a young monk. The Burmese are not better people than Muslims so far. The Burmese people deserve dictatorship which we the ethnics hate bitterly. If you fire at a butterfly with a machine gun, you are an idiot. It is what the Burmese are doing during these days.

  3. There is something wrong with this story.

    At 2pm on Tuesday, how Tin Maung Than, a Muslim shop owner, knew that the mobs are Buddhists? Just because they said “let’s destroy the property of Muslims?” Everybody can said that. For what? To heat up the situation and create chaos.

    I hope people not easily provoked with this.

    And in my opinion, Irrawady sometime reported on one side victim. For example in this article, why Irrawady not interview another local residents (Buddhist). Irrawady not using ‘apple to apple comparison’ for balance information.

    I hope Irrawaddy staff writers read again about Code of Ethics Journalism Guidelines. Please write with good manner, not playing with words just for draw public attention, traffic site and increase Google Adsense. Thanks.

    • Mr. Run, stop running away from truth. It is no doubt that Buddhist terrorists are inciting and actively taking part in anti-Muslim attacks. Who else can do that except the Buddhist in a Buddhist dominated country? You can derive the answer from your sense if you don’t run away from truth.

  4. All riots are happening in Burma because of some irresponsible Muslims reaction to small matters. All blame should be on Muslims. They should be arrested like recent arrest in Myktilla and RGN. These are the wishes of monstrous people and blood thirsty people to wipe out Muslims from Burma. Who were killed, who were burnt alive and whose properties were destroyed. Buddhist or Muslims? Still want to write against Muslims and blame Muslims. How can people justify killing muslins in Burma. This is naive. Old Military thugs are using illiterate Burmese against Muslims

  5. Thank you for the bravery of the Monk to speak what everyone with a brain knows except DASSK.Those that follow the words of Wirathu are pawns in a much bigger game and will regret their actions if what the Monk speaks of becomes the reality which is looking more and more likely. Time to jail Wirathu and punish those Buddhists who incite other Buddhists to these acts no matter how highly or lowly placed they are. Not only arrest and jail the Muslims. China is now laughing as are elements of the military.Good luck Myanmar time to wake up and smell the fear that these people are causing before too late yet again.

  6. Hi Mr run,
    I’m not really sure in which part of world you are staying. If you look at the series of violence done by the Buddhists against Muslims, you may realized that how uncivilized is this country. please do not blame others for the violence committed by notorious monks and Buddhists. I think this is a bit too much in this era. I have friends of all faith but I have never seen such attitudes of Buddhists. I respect all faith and I love peace and harmony. Please wake up all Burmese people and try to go forward along with Suu Kyi. Whatever you people are doing to innocent people should stop immediately. There is always a way to solve problems but not this way. Please go and think people of Burma.

  7. Shwe war nya saya daw is learned good Buddhist monk. He spoke the truth.

  8. Crusade happened in history. Because Christians did not want their faith wiped out. So they fought against the Muslim invaders. In Burma, the Muslims practice dirty tactics in business and reproduction. However, Buddhism in Burma is no way near from being wiped out. Teaching the daughters not to marry Muslim men may seem discrimination but it is still polite way to save faith and nationality. Many Muslim men practice polygamy system legally or illegally everywhere. But as long as rape does not happen, consensual sex is not a crime between adults. If our daughters live so cheap life, they will be impregnated by Muslim men. Instead of complaining and hating the Muslims, we better try to bring up our kids to love and cherish our customs, culture and faith. By torching houses and killing lives, we become worse people than the Muslims. Stay away from Muslims and their businesses but give them no harm. They are just minority and they cannot prosper unless you spend your money at their shops.

    • Hi Thinkara,
      I don’t want to say much. Your comment just simply shows that how narrow minded and illiterate you are. Please keep your opinion to yourself. Thank you.

      • harsh reality is muslims say in their religion they are open to marry anyone, the big BUT being partner MUST convert – applies to both man and woman. There is no compromise in it. There is only a very small percentage of people born in muslim family who are agnostic and completely secular.

        • When your Buddhist terrorist fiends comes out with talibani sword and kill Muslims, at that time you remain silent and use microscopes to find out defaults in Muslim matrimonial and reproductive regulations. But you can’t hide the sky with your palms, remember.

  9. These anti muslim activities are actually happening all over burma, including in ethnic state. Strange monks…not shan but bhama…are appearing in Shan state trying to start violence and spread the 969 “pro-Bhama” campaign there. This is also happening in Kayin and Mon states. Which organisation have the ability to send trucks full of strange monks past military checkpoints throughout the country at the same time? Just connect the dots and you can understand what is happening here. This is not simply neo-nazi monks leading this campaign.

  10. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in a vacuum, clearly there have been ongoing community tensions for a long time.
    Perhaps the Buddhists there are afraid they will end up like the majority Buddhist countries of Afghanistan which are not entirely Muslim. It really does seem a lot of Muslims seem to think they will dominate the whole planet – they certainly do little aleviate those fears. From murdering teachers in front of children in Thailand to blowing up tourists in Bali to setting off bombs at the finish line of a peaceful race in Boston…and this is not new. 1400 years of imperialism, slavery, annexation and where does it end. They already conquered a third of the Christian world, destroyed Zoroastrian Iran, butchered millions of Hindus and still enslave non-Muslims in Africa.

    Perhaps Buddhists in Burma have simply worked up like many other people in the world are waking up. I am sure not all Muslims are bad and violent people, just as all Nazi’s were not bad and violent people…

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