More Than 1,400 Muslims Seek Shelter at Lashio Monastery

By Lawi Weng 31 May 2013

LASHIO, Shan State—Three days after anti-Muslim riots first broke out in Lashio, Shan State, more than 1,400 people were sheltering on Friday at a Buddhist monastery being used as a temporary camp for those displaced by the violence.

The five small buildings that comprise the monastery remained crowded with the displaced as the UN World Food Program arrived in the morning to hand out provisions such as rice, cooking oil and beans.

Toilets, space and clean water at the monastery appeared to be in short supply.

Tin Tin Soe, a 22-year-old Muslim woman at the Buddhist monastery where the displaced have sought refuge, was forced to flee her home with her 12-day-old baby girl when rioting Buddhists descended on her neighborhood.

Health workers have been providing the young mother with advice on how to keep herself and the baby healthy under the trying conditions.

Another woman, Tin Myo Oo, was also displaced by the rioting, along with her 7-day-old boy.

The camp authority announced on Friday morning that some victims at the camp would be moved to a nearby football stadium in an attempt to alleviate the crowded conditions. People continued to arrive at the camp throughout the day, despite the fact that the streets of Lashio appeared to have calmed.

Speaking to the crowd, Tin Aung, a local Muslim leader, encouraged some of the IDPs to follow authorities’ instructions on moving to the football stadium.

“It will not be dangerous to move and stay there. I wanted to request that our people agree to move when the authority tells you to do so, because there is not enough space here.”

Win Myint Oo, a Muslim leader in the town, said that as of early on Friday afternoon, the monastery had accepted 1,400 people, with more arrivals expected later. Authorities were still searching for displaced families, he said, and would continue to bring them to shelter.

When The Irrawaddy visited on Friday, the atmosphere at the monastery was grim, with some IDPs crying as they stepped out of vehicles and entered the camp.

Elsewhere the situation in Lashio appeared to be stabilizing, after anti-Muslim rioting shook the town earlier this week, destroying a mosque, an Islamic orphanage and other buildings.

The violence began on Tuesday after a Muslim man allegedly poured gasoline on a Buddhist woman and set her alight, with mobs forming to take revenge after the attack. Rioting continued the next day, with casualties confirmed by Wednesday evening.

Buddhist stores had re-opened on Friday and many people were returning to their daily routines, though Muslims said they were still frightened to walk around town because they feared further attacks.

Dozens of people have been arrested for their suspected roles in the fighting, according to the Ministry of Information, which said authorities were interrogating detainees and would continue to search for more suspects.

“We’ll form a committee to investigate and determine who instigated the unrest,” Khin San, the ministry’s deputy director, told The Irrawaddy. “We have arrested 40 people so far.”

Some residents called on authorities to quell anti-Muslim sentiment by banning nationalist Buddhist rhetoric.

“I don’t think this violence will stop unless the authorities ban tapes with 969 speeches,” Naing Oo said, referring to a nationalist Buddhist movement that calls on Buddhists to shun Muslim businesses. Monks promoting the movement have traveled the country giving speeches, which are recorded on audiotapes and distributed.

Naing Oo said he knew people in Lashio who had expressed extremist ideas and joined in the rioting after Buddhist monks held 969 talks near the town.

Lashio is the latest town in Burma to be hit by spreading anti-Muslim violence. In March, anti-Muslim riots in the central Burma town of Meikhtila left more than 43 people dead, while sectarian clashes in west Burma’s Arakan State killed more than 180 people and displaced more than 140,000.