LASHIO, Shan State — On Tuesday night an argument between a Muslim man and a Buddhist petrol vendor sparked another outbreak of anti-Muslim violence in Burma, this time in Lashio, Shan State.
The northeastern mountain town was suddenly torn apart by inter-communal violence, as Buddhist mobs went on a rampage, destroying Muslim-owned shops and religious buildings, and clashing with Muslim men on the street.
By Thursday, hundreds of Muslim families had been forced to flee the violence, often at a moment’s notice. They were only able to carry a few basic belongings and rushed their children to safety. Armed police and soldiers trucked the Muslims away from the town center, where many owned shops and businesses, and brought them to a Buddhist temple complex called Mansu.
Their lives thrown into turmoil, more than 1,400 displaced Muslims are suddenly stranded at the temple and reliant on emergency food donations by the World Food Program.
Most are ordinary Burmese citizens — mothers and fathers, extended families — who lost homes, businesses and livelihoods. Their faces carry expressions of deep sadness and anxiety, and the looks in their eyes seem like a silent plea for you to understand their plight.
And whilst the adults understand the full gravity of their situation, children make new friends, find ways to amuse themselves and continue to smile and play amidst the palpable fear and uncertainty which pervades the scene
All across Burma, Muslim minority communities now live in daily fear of a sudden outbreak of violence carried out by a small, radical group, who claim to represent Burma’s Buddhist majority.
After anti-Muslim violence broke out in Arakan State about one year ago, these groups have sought to exploit a religious divide in the country. They have destroyed and looted Muslim neighborhoods and business with impunity, driving thousands of families from towns and villages where they lived for decades.
These newly displaced people represent a human a tragedy which risks undoing Burma’s celebrated democratic transition and dashing the hopes of those who wish a better future for all of the country’s citizens.