The state of emergency declared after communal violence tore through Meikhtila District four months ago will soon be lifted, but locals still worry that unrest could return to central Burma.
President Thein Sein reportedly sent a message to Parliament indicating that the emergency provision in effect since March for Meikhtila, Wundwin, Mahlaing and Tharzi townships in Mandalay Division would be lifted on Saturday in an indicator that authorities feel peace and stability in the area is no longer under threat.
The Mandalay Divisional government told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that Naypyidaw’s order, which would lift the area’s current 10pm to 4am curfew, had not yet been officially communicated.
“We heard that the president sent a message to Parliament but we have not received an official letter or order from Naypyidaw,” said an officer from the Mandalay divisional government’s office. “But we will take action as soon as we receive the order. The situation in the area is stable, so lifting the emergency law is appropriate.”
Despite the government official’s assurance, security concerns linger, with one local saying trust between Meikhtila’s Muslim and Buddhist communities remained low following the unrest.
“The situation in the town is stable now, but in our mind, the scars of the violence still remain and we are suspicious of each other. Since the trust between us was affected, it is hard to say we are at a normal condition and stable. We still worry that something might happen after the emergency law is lifted,” said Kyaw Oo, a resident of Meikhtila.
Nearly 7,000 people remain displaced due to the violence, the UN said in a report on Thursday, citing government data. More than 12,000 were originally forced from their homes.
“Despite there being no further security incidents in recent months, IDPs [internally displaced persons] remain cautious about returning home and tensions remain high,” the UN report said.
The state of emergency was declared on March 22 as the death toll in the area rose and mobs roamed the streets of Meikhtila, burning Muslim-owned shops and homes.
The unrest between the city’s Muslim and Buddhist communities was sparked by a dispute at a gold shop in Meikhtila between a Buddhist customer and the Muslim shop owner.
More than 120 suspects were reportedly apprehended following the rioting, which first broke out on March 20 and lasted three days. More than 40 people were killed, about 60 were injured and more than 2,000 homes were destroyed.
State security forces were criticized in the aftermath for their response to the escalating riots. A report in May by Physicians for Human Rights said that “armed riot police at the scene did little or nothing to intervene to prevent or halt the attacks.”
The government’s initial emergency declaration was extended on May 21 for another 60 days, though lawmakers at that time acknowledged that the situation had stabilized, calling the move a precautionary measure.
The events in Meikhtila marked the second major outbreak of religious unrest in Burma over the last year, following two waves of violence in Arakan State that began in June 2012 and killed nearly 200 people. About 140,000 others were displaced, most of them minority Rohingya Muslims.
Since Meikhtila, smaller cases of violence between members of the two religions have taken place in other towns across the country.
With additional reporting by Andrew D. Kaspar.