Arakan Conflict Threatens Reform: Thein Sein

By Hpyo Wai Tha 11 June 2012

RANGOON—President Thein Sein warned on Sunday that the recent violence in Arakan State could have a negative effect on Burma’s stability and development.

In his evening speech to the country, Thein Sein said the ongoing strife in the northwestern state has been fueled by religious and racial hatred that resulted in widespread anarchic activities.

“If we are sticking to endless hatred and revenge by killing each other, it’s possible that the danger will be more widespread, not only in Arakan State,” warned the reformist ex-general.

“If that happens, make no mistake, it would cause a severe loss to our fledgling democracy—stability and development,” he added.

Violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan State has flared since last Sunday when 10 Muslims were beaten to death in an apparent reprisal attack for the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman, allegedly by three Muslim men, late last month.

In the worst bloodshed since the nominally-civilian government took office last year, six townships in Arakan state are now under a 6 pm to 6 am curfew with a ban on gatherings of more than five people.

State media reported that one woman died on Sunday and there were a series of arson attacks in Maungdaw Township where the Buddhist Arakanese account for only a tiny fraction of the Muslim-dominated population.

The violence is Arakan State has claimed at least eight lives with more than 17 people wounded to date.

Thein Sein promised that Naypyidaw is going to take action against those responsible in accordance with the law, and will try to ensure that there is no repetition of these incidents.

With a solemn expression, the president also admitted that he did not think the situation would deteriorate as badly as it did, and that is why he has not addressed the nation until now.

“I didn’t want you to be worried. But as tensions continue to climb, I think now is the time to ask for your collaboration. So, I’m here today,” he said in the short speech.

In his plea to the country, Thein Sein requested that religious organizations, political parties and people from all walks of life join hands with the government to quell the ongoing carnage.

“The government is not solely responsible for stability and the rule of law. People also need to be considerate and abide by the law,” he said.

But Thein Sein’s words did not console some ethnic Arakanese who paid close attention to his speech.

“He didn’t even mention exactly what kind of action will be taken against those who committed the crimes. We want to know how [it will be handled]. While he is preaching to us about the ‘rule of law,’ our people are being killed there,” said an Arakanese man who lives in Rangoon.

On Sunday, hours before the president’s speech, nearly a thousand ethnic Arakanese, including several dozen Buddhists monks, gathered at the Shwedagon Pagoda for a second day to protest against the sectarian violence.

Holding anti-Islamic placards, the protesters peacefully walked around the city’s most famous religious monument three times before praying for the Arakanese killed in the unrest.

“Here is my message for Mr. President—there is no more rule of law in Arakan State. Urgent action is needed from you. No more words please but action,” said a protester who asked to remain anonymous.