Buddhists, Muslims said to riot in Kyaukse

Listen to the original broadcast in Burmese

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2003�A pregnant woman and a child were among dozens of people who died in fires during riots in the central Burmese town of Kyaukse on Oct. 19, according to an eyewitness who gave an exclusive interview to Radio Free Asia (RFA).

The fires, which razed dozens of family homes and a mosque, appear to have been started by a mob protesting the alleged defacement of Buddhist images by two Muslim men. However, the actions of government agents have triggered ethnic violence in Burma in the past.

"When I ran there to see, the firemen had already put out the fire, so we approached further and looked and we saw the bones and the flesh. We saw a small skull," said the eyewitness, a Muslim, who asked not to be named.

"There was a skeleton of an adult and a skull. I heard the people near there saying that the dead woman was pregnant," he said, adding that he broke down in tears when he realized the dead woman was his own niece. "I saw a small skull that could be assumed to be a child's skull and a larger skeleton."

The man also reported seeing many more corpses of people who had died in the fires. "Soon we saw one corpse after another. They were taking them away to the hospital," he told RFA�s Burmese service.

The resident of the Kan Oo ward, or district, said he saw the human remains on the morning after the riots, on Oct. 20. The previous night, he also saw a shouting crowd march through the streets, and many neighbors reported that the local mosque had been burned.

"Even though at first I thought it was impossible to destroy the mosque that was opposite the police station, later my next-door neighbor telephoned me," he told RFA. "My family also told me that people were destroying the Su Gyi Mosque."

The man said he was forced to take refuge in a neighbor�s house. "Later, I heard noises. It was the sound of a crowd marching toward us. They were shouting, �Yay, yay.� Well, it was impossible to stay inside this house anymore."

"So I went to the opposite house, which is a Buddhist family's house, to ask for help. I said,�Please give my wife and children permission to seek shelter. Please help,� and so they said, �Your entire family should come. We will help you.� And so we sent the children."

RFA also learned that while the corpses were taken to hospital, relatives of the victims were barred from entering the morgue. Many of the bodies were buried according to Muslim tradition the following day.

"They allowed us to bury them around 1:30 p.m.," the man said. "We brought all the burned bodies of 11 people, including the fetus, in bags. We went to the Muslim cemetery. We buried them. We buried them only on the 20th, around 2 p.m.," he said, adding that many of the bags contained body parts that were difficult to sort.

Unconfirmed reports initially described the rioting and burnings as part of religious riots between Buddhists and Muslims. But Burma�s military government has provoked violent clashes between ethnic and religious groups in the past. The junta has so far issued no official account of the unrest.

The eyewitness from Kyaukse told RFA there had previously been no tension between the two communities, who had mingled freely throughout the district.

"We have been living together with love, laughter, and happiness. When the incident took place, the Buddhists helped us and only they helped and hid our families as well," he said.

In 1997, anti-Muslim riots in central Burma were characterized by some reports as being provoked by the junta. Human rights groups also point to evidence detailing anti-Muslim persecution by the government in Kayin State the same year, during which mosques were burned, Korans destroyed, and Muslims evicted from their homes.

RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo and Kham) and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance and fairness in its editorial content. #####


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