RANGOON – Despite the Thingyan festival ending throughout Burma on Sunday, conflict-torn Maungdaw in northern Arakan State is celebrating the annual water festival from Monday until Thursday, according to local police major Kyaw Mya Win.
Maungdaw is the only township—of 17 in Arakan State—that still celebrates the Buddhist New Year according to the Arakanese calendar, on April 17-20.
Several photos have gone viral on Facebook depicting armed border guard police near the pavilions in Maungdaw—around which celebrations are centered—a reminder of the increased security presence in the township. Following coordinated attacks on police outposts last October, the Burma Army and police carried out “clearance operations” in the township in late 2016, resulting in tens of thousands of self-identifying Rohingya Muslims seeking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.
U Khin Maung Yee, a Muslim resident of Myoma, Maungdaw town’s southern quarter, told The Irrawaddy that township government administration departments had instructed village heads to prevent Muslims from visiting the Thingyan pavilions in order to “avoid unnecessary violence.”
Police official U Kyaw Mya Win rejected such claims, and said that authorities had not implemented such restrictions.
U Khin Maung Yee recalled that up until five years ago, Muslims had regularly joined the annual water festival alongside Buddhists, but that this changed after riots erupted in Arakan State in 2012, displacing nearly 100,000 people.
“Before…Muslims joined the Thingyan festival with Arakanese friends, but now no one is interested in participating in this event, because they are worried about conflict happening again,” U Khin Maung Yee said.
Dr. Aye Chan, an Arakanese professor at Japan’s Kanda University, said that the extended Thingyan period unique to Maungdaw could also be attributed to Arakanese traditions of courtship, because it allows more time for travel between Maungdaw and neighboring townships.