Violence Spreads to Villages Near Burma’s Biggest City

By Lawi Weng & Daniel Pye 1 May 2013

OKKAN — At least one Muslim village was set alight on Wednesday evening as violence continued to spread in Okkan Township north of Rangoon and Burma’s latest round of anti-Muslim violence claimed its first casualty.

The violence in Okkan on Wednesday followed a day of attacks on Muslim communities on Tuesday, when four villages were razed and a number of Muslims attacked with machetes and sticks.

Zaw Zaw Naing, a Muslim from Okkan who was badly beaten by a Buddhist mob on Tuesday, died at Rangoon Hospital on Wednesday. Nine injured Muslims from Okkan remain in hospitals in Rangoon, Taik Kyi and Okkan townships.

“We did not do anything wrong to the Buddhists,” Moe Kyaw, an elderly Muslim man who was wounded in the head and hands by a Buddhist mob, told The Irrawaddy from his bed in Okkan Hospital. “But they tried to kill my whole family.”

At least two mosques and two madrasas have been destroyed since Tuesday along with more than 100 houses. In Kyawe Poan Lay village, The Irrawaddy can confirm at least 49 houses, a mosque and a madrasa were destroyed on Tuesday.

Police deployed to the scene of the attack shortly after the blaze started in Wang Kit village at about 6pm on Wednesday and a fire truck was sent to the scene.

The situation was palpably tense in Okkan on Wednesday. The army was deployed to razed villages alongside the dozens of police brought in from Rangoon on Tuesday. Along the maze of dust tracks that lead to the villages from the main highway through Okkan, Buddhist mobs stood a menacing guard.

One group stopped The Irrawaddy car to inspect its contents. “Do you have any Muslims inside,” a red-eyed youth barked as he stuck his head through the open window.

The violence in Okkan was sparked on Tuesday when a Muslim woman bumped into a novice monk, spilling his food and breaking his alms bowl. Local Buddhists were angered when the woman, who is now in police custody, refused to apologize.

Police detained 18 people who were arrested on Tuesday night. A police investigation is underway, Rangoon deputy police chief Thet Lwin said, and more arrests will follow.

Thet  Lwin said the violence was carried out by locals.

“They are all residents from Okkan. The rioters are not from other towns,” he said, adding that the mobs were “terrorists,” who would face justice.

Anti-Muslim violence in central Burma in March claimed the lives of at least 43 people and more than 12,000 were displaced. But so far the only people to face jail terms have been Muslims. The traumatized Muslim residents of Okkan are hoping for more than that.

Moe Kyaw and three members of his family were attacked when two mobs of about 100 Buddhists flanked them, cutting off their escape route. His two sons were badly wounded by machete.

The Buddhist mob “entered our house in two groups, from two different sides,” Moe Kyaw said. “My family was trapped and they attacked us with large knives.”

Wang Kit was also attacked on Tuesday and several villagers were injured.

Win Cho, a young woman injured in the attack on Wang Kit, said: “I was trying to rescue some belongings from my house when I was hit by a slingshot and went unconscious for 15 minutes.

“I know all of the people who attacked my house and they are still free. There is no rule of law in this country.

“I was born here and I don’t know where to go. It would be better to die than live like this. Who can we trust to protect us?”