Tense Calm Returns after Latest Outbreak of Violence in Arakan State

By Nyein Nyein 9 June 2012

The situation in northern Arakan State is stable but tense in the wake of a wave of mob violence that claimed at least seven lives and saw the complete or partial destruction of nearly two dozen villages in two townships on Friday, according to official and local sources.

The authorities in Maungdaw Township, the scene of the worst violence, imposed an indefinite curfew last night after around 1,000 Muslims swept through 22 predominantly Buddhist villages, attacking residents and burning houses and other buildings. A two-month curfew was also set in Buthidaung, a neighboring township also located near Burma’s border with Bangladesh.

As part of the dusk-to-dawn curfews, public gatherings of more than five people are banned, according to a notice published by state-run media.

The attacks marked the latest escalation of tensions between the two communities, after 10 Muslims were dragged from a bus and beaten to death last Sunday. That incident followed growing anger over the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman, allegedly by three Muslim men, late last month.

According to information posted on the website of the President’s Office on Saturday morning, in addition to the seven dead, 17 people were seriously injured in the attacks. Damage to property included the destruction of 494 houses, 19 shops and one hotel.

Local sources said, however, that the authorities have not yet completed their survey of the area and are still looking for additional casualties. They added that at least 300 people who had fled to nearby mountains to escape the attacks had been rescued.

State television announced on Saturday that troops had been sent to the area to reinforce local police who struggled to control the rampaging mobs. According to the state-run newspaper Myanmar Ahlin, security forces opened fire on the rioters to restore order on Friday. No casualties were reported.

The Ministry of Information also reported on its website that the area had been visited by Defense Minister Lt-Gen Hla Min and other senior civilian an military officials, including Arakan State Chief Minister Hla Maung Tin, Western Regional Commander Brig-Gen Ko Ko Naing and Relief and Relocation Deputy Minister Phone Swe.

According to a local resident, Hla Min assured people living in the area that the government would guarantee their security.

Meanwhile, aid for those affected by the violence has begun to flow in from other parts of Arakan State. “Donors are providing emergency assistance for people sheltering at a monastery near my home,” said Maungdaw resident Shwe Maung Thein. “Support is needed for about 400 people,” he added.

According to the Ministry of Information website, three monasteries are being used as temporary shelters for displaced villagers. A monk living in the area said that the villages that came under attack are home to around 5,000 people, of whom only several hundred have so far been accounted for.

The government also announced on Saturday that it had formed a Stability, Relief and Rehabilitation Management Committee to provide shelter, security, healthcare and food support to the victims of the violence.