Violence Flares Again in Arakan State

By Nyein Nyein & Lawi Weng 4 November 2013

An Arakanese woman was killed and another severely injured after they were stabbed by Muslim men wielding spears in a village of Pauktaw Township on Saturday, in an attack reportedly carried out in retaliation for the discovery a Muslim man’s dead body in strife-torn Arakan State.

The three unidentified Muslim men confronted a group of six Arakanese women who were collecting mussels along the coast near Sinai village, some 10 miles from Pauktaw.Ma Hla Khin, an Arakanese woman in her 30s, died from stab wounds to her abdomen, and the other victim was seriously injured in the attack, according to a state parliamentarian representing Pauktaw.

May Than Khin, a young woman in her late teens, is receiving treatment at a hospital in Sittwe, the state capital, according to Tet Htun Aung, an Arakanese lawmaker of the Arakan State Parliament who visited Sinai village on Sunday.

“Her injuries are severe and the doctor said she would require lengthy treatment for her wounds,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Hla Thein, the Arakan State attorney general, said the other four women managed to escape unharmed.

“It is supposed that the killing of the Arakanese woman on Saturday afternoon was a reprisal for the discovery of a dead Muslim man earlier that day in Sin Thet Maw village,” Hla Thein told The Irrawaddy.

Local police are investigating that case, and the cause of the Muslim man’s death is not yet known, the attorney general said.

“The body of a Bengali Muslim covered with wounds was found in Sin Thet Maw village, and I think the Bengalis suspect the Arakanese for this,” said Hla Thein, referring to the Rohingya man as a “Bengali,” a term that reflects many locals’ belief that the Muslim minority are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Hla Thein said another Muslim man was later injured when police fired shots to disperse a growing crowd that was gathering outside of a local mosque where a funeral was to take place for the Rohingya whose body was discovered on Saturday.

Tet Htun Aung said residents of Sinai village did not know about the dead Muslim man in Sin Thet Maw.

“In this case, all of the assaulted were women. They said if they had known about Sin Thet Maw and the anger of the Bengalis, they would have taken greater precautions,” he said.

Aung Win, a Rohinga rights activist, had a different version of the weekend’s events, telling The Irrawaddy on Monday that four Rohingya were killed over the weekend in two separate incidents. He said two of the deaths came when police opened fire on a gathering crowd, though it was not clear if he was referring to the same incident in which Hla Thein said one Muslim was wounded outside a mosque. One died on the spot and the other died in hospital, according to Aung Win.

One other Muslim was found dead and another remains missing and is presumed dead, Aung Win said, adding that it was believed that they were killed while collecting firewood on Saturday.

In Sin Thet Maw, Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have self-segregated, with a road separating the two populations, in an arrangement illustrative of the tense inter-communal relations that have characterized much of Arakan State since two bouts of violence between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims last year.

Residents of Sinai, a coastal village, have complained about the frequent loss of livestock since the religious strife erupted in Arakan State, with Tet Htun Aung saying Muslims in the area are blamed.

“Local authorities are not taking these problems seriously … The loss of buffalos and cows is happening almost every day,” said Tet Htun Aung.

On Sunday, Arakanese residents of Pauktaw held a meeting to voice dissatisfaction with international nongovernmental organizations’ work in the area. The complainants accused the INGOs of bias in favor of the Muslim minority in Arakan State, saying they had neglected to assist the local Arkanese women who were assaulted on Saturday.

In Arakan State, resentment toward INGOs is not new, and a growing chorus of Arakanese have called for expelling the aid organizations.

On Monday, the Arakan State government met with representatives from 18 INGOs in Sittwe, according to Hla Thein. “We discussed the locals’ complaints about the INGOs’ unequal treatment to the displaced people in both communities,” he said.

“The INGOs claimed that their assistance is provided fairly, but they promised to heed the government’s suggestion,” Hla Thein added.

Meanwhile, medical services from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Sittwe have reportedly been suspended, according to a local aid worker in the city, after a group of local Arakanese residents including Buddhist monks surrounded the aid organization’s office in the state capital.

“They closed their office, their boat service, and even stopped their car services because some local Arakanse and monks surrounded their office today,” the aid worker in Sittwe said on Monday.

The Arakanese group that surrounded the office was also alleging biased provision of medical services by MSF in favor of Muslims, he said.

“I am a witness. They [MSF] hired a speed boat and brought only the Bengali patient. They did not come to bring our patient,” said Maung Maung, who is a community leader from Arakan Blood Donors, which donates blood to local Buddhists in need of transfusions.

MSF Deputy Head of Mission Vickie Hawkins told The Irrawaddy that her organization was impartial in its work, and provided medical services “regardless of ethnicity and based only on a patient’s need to be transferred to hospital.”

Hawkins said MSF was not contacted to provide assistance in the case of the Arakanese women.

“If we had been contacted, MSF would have been very ready to provide emergency medical care and referral services and have facilitated this on several occasions in the past,” she said.