‘We only shot with rubber bullets to scare them’

By Kyaw Kha 4 April 2013

Ongoing violence against Muslims in Burma, which began in Mandalay Division and later spread to Naypyidaw and Pegu, left dozens dead. Between March 20 and March 28 the government admitted 42 had died. The police said the violence was orchestrated and was conducting an investigation into the events. Then President Thein Sein made a public speech, warning “religious extremists” their actions “will not be tolerated.” The Irrawaddy interviewed police Lt Col Min Aung about the police investigation into the violence.

Question: The violence started in Meikhtila and spread to Naypyidaw and Pegu Division. How did the police deal with that situation?

Answer: We follow the official Riot Control Procedure to contain any unrest. We first speak to the crowd, negotiate and discuss with them. If we can’t talk to them, as a last resort, we shoot rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Currently, we have deployed a police battalion in western Pegu Division to cooperate with local forces.

Q: People have speculated that the recent unrest has spread quickly because there are instigators behind the scene. How much do you know about it?

A: It is possible that there are instigators even though we can’t say anything exactly at this moment. The probability is high as something like this wouldn’t happen automatically if there was no instigation of any kind.

Until now, we have only detained those who were involved in violence. And, we are still trying to reveal those who mastermind the incidents.

Q: Does the police have any plans to let the public know about possible instigators, so people can avoid further violence?

A: We don’t have such a plan yet. Right now, we are only collecting information as much as we can in order to contain the situation and avoid further riots.

Q: Locals in violence-stricken areas have criticized what they say is a lack of effective protection for them while the incidents were going on. What kinds of difficulty did the police encounter in tackling the unrest?  

A: Well, we only shot with rubber bullets to scare them; they knew they wouldn’t get hurt. So, under such circumstances, we found it difficult to contain the situation if they happened to come forward. Another issue was the size of the crowd and the police forces — there were more rioters than police. In terms of information about possible unrest, we received it in time, so we had to contain the situation as much we could with the strength we had.

Q: As Thingyan [Burmese water festival] approaches, do you think the recent violence may affect the New Year period, in which people usually gather together in large groups?

A: I don’t think there is any possibility of such violence during Thingyan as it is meant for everyone in the country. However, we have a security plan for every division and state for Thingyan as usual.

Q: Have you made any preparations in advance to prevent the recent violence from spreading to other states and divisions?

A: We are currently preparing with the army. Our plans include patrolling and controlling areas. In Rangoon, we have prepared for check points and night patrols.

Q: What is the latest situation in places where violence had taken place?

A: I can say that the situation in Mandalay Division, including Meikhtila, has become stable. Likewise, two places in Naypyidaw, where riots occurred, have also become settled.