Reporter Diary—Touring the Arakan Strife

Snay Lin The Irrawaddy

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Latest government figures released on Wednesday suggest that 89 people were killed, 136 injured and at least 32,000 made homeless with more than 5,000 houses burned down when sectarian violence erupted in Arakan State on Oct. 21-30. The Irrawaddy reporter Snay Lin kept a diary of his recent trip to the trouble spots.

Sunday, October 25

As soon as I arrived in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, I met with Win Mying, the head of an information unit formed by the state government. I then visited patients at Sittwe General Hospital who came from Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya and Pauktaw townships and were wounded by gunshots in the recent strife.

Monday, October 26

Sittwe was under heavy guard yet Win Mying said the situation was now stable and security forces were already being deployed to other places where clashes might occur.

The recent strife, which began at Pikethe Village in Minbya Township on Oct. 21, subsequently spread to Minbya, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Kyaukpyu, Yathetaung, Pauktaw and Myebon townships.

Twenty-four people, including wounded people from Kyauktaw, are currently admitted in Sittwe Hospital. Before leaving, I was informed by the chairman of Wunlat Foundation (WF), an organization helping to care for patients, that more people with injuries from Kyauktaw would be arriving soon. Current patients include some with gunshot wounds.

The WF chairman also told me that all patients recently admitted to the hospital are Arakanese. A few with serious injuries needed to be transferred to Rangoon General Hospital. Some Sittwe residents reportedly visited patients to offer food and financial donations.

Tuesday, October 27

I discovered that the WF chairman requested that the Sittwe Hospital superintendent allows a patient with a gunshot wound to his head to be transferred to Rangoon by plane.

Rumors are circulating about people getting wounded near Pauktaw yesterday following serious clashes which security forces who were shooting into the crowd. So I rented a boat and went there at around midday. Upon arrival, I immediately see two burnt shelters that belonged to Muslims.

Locals told me that yesterday’s incident occurred around three hours away by boat away. They also said that vessels are not allowed to land there for security reasons. Therefore, I changed my plans and instead went to a Muslim village in eastern Pauktaw which was already burnt to ashes

I asked Arakanese people nearby where the inhabitants of the abandoned village had gone. They told me that Muslims have been leaving by boat since late in the evening of Oct. 24. They said that around 150 Muslims were at the local Mosque yesterday, the day the last burning took place, and smoke started billowing out. They believed those Muslims had already left for refugee camps in Sittwe.

I had planned to continue my journey to Minbya by the Maykha express boat, but unfortunately the ferry’s battery had run out and I had to stay onboard overnight.

Wednesday, October 28

When I arrived in Minbya, local Arakanese people told me that security was problematic if I wanted to go to Mrauk-U by car as there were Muslim villages on the way. They worried as they thought the Muslims were out of control. They also refused to accompany me even if I rented a car out of fear for their own safety.

Afterwards, I went to Minbya Police Station to explain about my intentions. Officers there said they did not want anything happened to me, as a journalist, and so some would accompany me to Pikethe Village, where the recent communal strife was first sparked on Oct. 21. So I eventually set out together with five policemen including a second lieutenant.

There were soldiers and other security forces in civilian clothes en route to Pikethe. Only 18 houses in the village were burnt down. No causalities were reported, neither injured nor dead.

I met the couple who the local authorities deem the culprits of instigating the recent strife. They said they were quarrelling but it was not true that this directly led to the subsequent mass sectarian conflict. The village headman also said that he was saddened to learn that the fresh clashes originated in Pikethe, but that he did not think there was any conspiracy.

After Pikethe, I arrived at Sambali Village. Immediately upon arrival, groups of Muslims eagerly explained what happened and showed me the devastation. They claimed that more than 7,000 Arakanese entered their village through paddy fields, although significant damage to the farmland was difficult to spot. I learnt that 225 houses were burnt down and two people were killed here. The Muslims claimed that one person died after being shot by security forces.

The Police Colonel at Min Bya was proved correct as he previously told me that, once I arrived where clashes took place, Muslims would try to convince me about shootings by security forces by showing bullet shells.

One of the policemen said there were only eight houses in Sambali 70 years ago, but now there are more than 1,000.

Then I travelled to Mrauk-U and went straight to interview Arakanese currently taking refuge in Ah Lo Taw Pyay monastery.

I found 758 people from 185 families both there and also in Alezay, Shwegutaung and Aung Mingalar monasteries—women, children and the elderly from nearby villages. The men have reportedly remained in their villages to safeguard their property.

Thursday, October 29

Returning to Sittwe from Mrauk-U, I could only see predominantly Arakanese villages. There were no security personnel and local people worked without any sign of disturbance.

There were not many soldiers inside the army compound at the entrance to the state capital, and I assumed that they had been deployed elsewhere to maintain security. When I arrived at the highway bus station, Sittwe residents were moving around normally.

The overwhelming impression that I have gained from my interviews with Sittwe residents is that many feel that they will never again be able to live together with Muslims.