RANGOON—Aung Thaung, a senior member of the ruling party and the former right-hand man of retired military supremo Than Shwe, has suggested that “communists” might have been involved in the anti-Muslim riots that rocked central Burma last month.
Aung Thaung, who is a member of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) central consulting board, made the statements during a meeting with US Ambassador Derek Mitchell, with who he discussed the unrest in Meikhtila Township, according to local media reports.
On Tuesday, Aung Thaung confirmed with The Irrawaddy that he made the statements, but he stopped short of identifying the supposed “communist” instigators of the inter-communal violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities.
Asked if he meant that the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) were behind the violence, Aung Thaung said, “They [the CPB] might be involved or not. I don’t know. “We have no solid evidence of their involvement. I just made my conclusions based on which people were taking part in the riots.”
He added, “I didn’t say the Communist Party of Burma is behind it. I only mentioned that some people who believe in communism are behind the riots.”
From March 21-28, anti-Muslim violence spread through central Burma, affecting communities in 11 townships. The violence first erupted in Meikhtila town, where 43 people were killed and 93 hospitalized.
During the clashes, nationalist Buddhist monks and groups of unidentified thugs reportedly played a key role. Some Muslim leaders have alleged that USDP hardliners were making use of these groups to fan the unrest, in order to derail the government’s reform agenda.
President Thein Sein said in a speech that “political opportunists and religious extremists” had orchestrated the violence.
In an interview last week with the Myanmar Herald News Journal Aung Thaung alleged that various groups, including “communists,” had been involved in the riots.
“Among them there are some people recently released from prison, some are monks and some are not,” he told the journal. “The others are underground operators, some others are communist sympathizers. These are the main instigators.”
Aung Thaung is seen as an influential member of the USDP party due, and he is believed to be among a group of party hardliners. When Snr-Gen Than Shwe was in power, he functioned as his right-hand man. He has been accused of masterminding the 2003 attack on the motorcade of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which left dozens of her supporters dead.
The CPB’s spokesperson, Comrade Than Gyaung, said in a reaction that Aung Thaung’s claims about the CPB were just a pretext to cover up the government’s failure to stem the recent violence.
“Now they realize that they are solely responsible for what has happened, and when they were questioned in person [by Ambassador Mitchell] about who are involved, they just voiced their assumptions without evidence,” he said in a phone call from China.
“I’m worried that the government is creating an excuse to arrest people who sympathize us,” he added.
The China-backed CPB fought a decades-long rebellion against the government from its bases along Burma’s northern border until 1989. In the 1990s, the government persecuted the party for its role in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and hundreds of people affiliated with it were arrested. Many party members fled to China.
Dr Zaw Min, a former CPB member and secretary for the 1988 Student Leading Cell, said Aung Thaung’s allegations about the party’s role in the riots made no sense, as most party members are old and no longer involved in politics. He added that many supported Burma’s democratic reform process.
“As far as I’m concerned, we have nothing to do with the riot,” the ex-CPB member told the Irrawaddy. “The government is looking for culprits so they just simply blame us.”
(Additonal reporting by Nyein Nyein)