Burma Authorities to Resettle Displaced Muslims in Meikhtila

By Lawi Weng 4 December 2013

RANGOON — Local authorities are preparing to resettle hundreds of Muslims displaced by inter-communal violence in March between local Buddhists and the Muslims in Meikhtila Township, Mandalay Division, according a state-run newspaper.

Muslim neighborhoods of Meikhtila were razed to the ground during the violence. Authorities say Muslims made up the majority of the 7,845 people who have since been living in temporary camps outside the town.

A report in the New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday said the government will provide plots of land or apartments to resettle about 400 Muslim victims of the violence.

The report was unclear on the details of the resettlement plan, but said a coordination meeting was held at the end of last month among the government authorities to decide what to do with the displaced people.

The report did say specifically that those at the meeting—including Mandalay Division’s Planning and Economic Minister Aung Zan, as well as district and township officials—agreed that a first round of plots measuring 40 by 30 feet would be given to 93 people. Another 77 fire victims would later get plots and 193 “victims who have no guarantee” would be provided residential quarters.

Violence between local Buddhists and Muslims broke out in Meilktila on March 20 following bouts of violence in Arakan State between Arakanese Buddhists and the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority last year, which left 192 people dead and 140,000 people displaced.

In Meikhtila, 1,594 houses were burned down in Chanayethaya Ward, according to the New Light of Myanmar report, sending people into five relief camps. About 40 people were killed and 60 injured, and about 30 people, both Buddhist and Muslims, were sentenced by a court in Meikhtila in July for the violence.

Win Htein, a National League for Democracy (NLD) member of Parliament for Meikhtila, said the displaced people were being resettled in the same area they were displaced from. He said the resettlement was overdue, and would begin this month.

“I have been telling the government for a long time to let them return their homeland. I feel it’s late already as they have had to stay in the camps for a long time,” said Win Htein.

He insisted the atmosphere in the town was much improved since the violence and that Buddhists and Muslims would not clash again.

“The current situation is getting better, it’s a lot better than before,” Win Htein said. “There will be no problem with their return.”

Maung Maung, a Muslim from Meikhtila, who was displaced by the violence in March and is now in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy that all the victims wanted to go back as soon as possible.

“The majority of our people want to go back to their homeland,” he said, adding that many were concerned they would be resettled in a new place without being consulted.

“They are still checking people who have title paper for their own land. So, as far as I know, we will return to our homeland,” said Maung Maung. “People are saying that they are happy if they can go back to their homeland, even if they can only build small hut to stay in.”

Ko Phyo, a Buddhist resident of Meikhtila, said that the Buddhist population of the town was concerned by the resettlement.

“Our residents are worried that it is going to cause more violence. They are the people who started problem first, but when the locals [Buddhists] reacted, events went out of control,” he said, adding that the deaths of monks during the violence had caused escalation.

“This is big problem. The local people were outraged and lost control in their reaction,” said Ko Phyo.

He also claimed the resettlement would be problematic because displaced Muslims had been opportunistic. “We heard that some families asked for three plot of land, even though they only had one family home in the past,” he said

However, some Muslim families have already returned to their land in Meikhtila, and visitors report that the situation is stable.

Hajj Kyaw Khin, a Muslim has donated to the Muslim victims of the Meikhtila violence, said resettlement would help the area to be return to normal.

“It is good if the people could return to their homeland because I found there that they express the feeling that they wanted to return back,” he said. “Many people have no job and don’t have enough food because they have to stay in the camps.”