Buddhist Nationalists Say They Were Attacked First in Muslim Neighborhood Raid

By Lawi Weng 11 May 2017

Members of the Buddhist nationalist group that stormed a Muslim neighborhood in Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township on Tuesday in search of Rohingya “illegally” staying in the area, have said that local Muslims allegedly “attacked [them] first.”

The accusation was put forward at a press conference on Thursday in Rangoon by the Patriotic Monks Union to describe the events of May 9, in which The Irrawaddy reported that Buddhist monks had led a group of nationalists into the neighborhood just at around midnight. They reportedly turned hostile when they did not discover the individuals they were looking for, and police fired warning shots to disperse the crowd after the confrontation. One man—a Muslim—was wounded in the incident in the early hours of Wednesday.

“If we stay quiet and do not speak it out, it is like we are guilty,” said U Parmaukkha, a senior member of the Buddhist nationalist group, at the press conference.

“We have seen that what happened on the ground and what has been reported by media are different,” the monk said. “There is rule of law in our country, but the police did not enforce the law. Therefore, the monks have to do the work of the police,” he added, suggesting that the police had taken bribes and allowed “illegal migrants” to stay in Mingalar Taung Nyunt.

U Parmaukkha alleged that the Rangoon township would “become like Maungdaw” in northern Arakan State, a conflict area in which security forces carried out clearance operations after October attacks by militants on border police outposts. Nationalists allege that the township’s large population of Rohingya Muslims are “Bengalis” from neighboring Bangladesh.

Representatives from the monks’ union brought forward individuals at the press conference who they said were witnesses to Tuesday’s events, including taxi driver U Tin Htut Zaw who supported the claims that Rohingya Muslims were being “illegally hidden” in Rangoon apartments.

The driver, who is also a resident of Mingalar Taung Nyunt and a member of the Buddhist nationalist group, told reporters that he had driven the individuals in question in his taxi, and that they could not speak Burmese.

For four days, he said he closely watched over the apartment at which he dropped the five people off. They were driven by the building’s owner to a construction site to work each day, U Tin Htut Zaw said, so he informed the township authorities, police and Buddhist nationalists.

Ko Hein, who accompanied the police in searching for the migrant workers on May 9, said that the landlord did not respond to their questions about the men. Ko Hein added that they could not find the individuals.

“I went to search for them one by one, but I did not see them,” he said.

Those at Thursday’s press conference also pointed blame at rights activists and local lawmakers for speaking to the media and “looking at the situation from only the Muslim side.”

U Thuseitha, a senior member of the Buddhist nationalist group, spoke to reporters and he described how he said he was attacked that night by Muslims in the neighborhood.

“They threw stones and sticks at us. The police also had to run. I needed to get inside the police car to escape,” he said.

U Thuseitha described U Mya Aye, a leader of the 88-Generation student activists, as a “kalar,” a derogatory term in Burma for someone of South Asian descent, often used toward Muslims, adding that his statements—and those of National League for Democracy lawmakers Daw Phyu Phyu Tin and U Nay Phone Latt—to the media on the incident were “groundless.”

“They take money from our people, but look after Muslims only,” said U Thuseitha of the government representatives.