Meikhtila on Edge After Standoff Over Interfaith Couple

By Zarni Mann 21 April 2015

MANDALAY – Central Burma’s Meikhtila remains on edge after a tense inter-communal standoff on Monday night, following news that a young Buddhist woman had eloped with her Muslim partner.

In Thabyewa, a village about 10 miles north of the town, a small mob of hostile Buddhists gathered at the man’s workplace to demand that she be turned over, witnesses said.

By around 9pm, a group of the woman’s relatives and other Buddhists were facing off with a small assembly of Muslims outside the restaurant where he worked.

Police arrived quickly to defuse the situation, locals said. No one was injured and no property was damaged.

“The two groups argued and shouted at each other as the Buddhists urged [the Muslim man] to return the girl. About 20 police and administrative officers from Meikhtlia arrived and negotiated with the crowd,” witness Maung Maung told The Irrawaddy.

Villagers said the young woman was returned to her immediate family and the crowd soon dissipated.

The duty officer on call, who wished to remain anonymous, said the incident was peacefully resolved.

“The situation has been controlled and the mob was dispersed at midnight,” he said. “No one was detained and there was no destruction or violence at all.”

Villagers remain fraught, however, as the memory of deadly communal riots remains fresh. In March 2013, a quarrel at a gold shop in Meikhtila set off several days of violence targeted toward Muslims leaving more than 40 people dead and thousands displaced.

Two years on, hundreds of the displaced have reportedly been resettled and more than 20 people have been sentenced for their involvement in the massacre.

The town has since been calm, if cautious. Following Monday night’s scare, locals expressed concern that rumors have begun to circulate that could destabilize the town, which is still struggling to recover from its previous trauma.

“Some men have been talking about the incident in teashops, spreading rumors that Muslims and Buddhists are facing a deadly fight,” said city elder Myint Lwin, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “They are trying to stir up problems.”