Ethnic tensions between Myanmar’s Muslims and majority Buddhists spilled over into the country’s central Magway region on Sunday when a mob attacked a Muslim butcher’s home in Taungdwingyi township and then marched on a local mosque before being dispersed by police.
The Buddhist mob, which grew to number about 70 and was later joined by 400 villagers, was led at first by a smaller group of masked young men, a local parliamentarian told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“First, about seven to eight young people came in wearing masks. Some had soot on their faces,” Win Myint Hlaing, a member of parliament for Taungdwingyi in the Magway region assembly said.
“One young man who threw rocks at the house was detained last night, and four more were detained today,” he said.
Arriving at a local mosque after stoning the Muslim’s home, the mob was dispersed at about 8 p.m. by police who fired rubber bullets into the crowd, Myanmar’s Government Information Committee said in a statement. Local media sources quoted one attacker as saying the crowd had taken action because of their unhappiness over developments in nearby Rakhine state.
Authorities in Rakhine’s Rathedaung township meanwhile moved to limit further clashes in their area, forbidding residents in an announcement on Monday from carrying weapons, burning houses, or carrying out attacks and robberies.
Security officials in Rathedaung learned on Sept. 9 that more than 230 houses had been set ablaze in the township’s Thabyaedaw village, causing village residents to flee, Myanmar's Government Information Committee said in a statement.
No indication was given of who had burned the houses, or why.
Almost 400 people including teachers, students, and other residents of Rakhine’s Taung Pyo Let Wae village had meanwhile been sent for safety to Myoma monastery in nearby Maungdaw on military boats, government sources said.
Thousands now in camps
Thousands of ethnic Rakhine, Myo, and Hindu refugees have now been placed in camps in Rakhine’s regional capital Sittwe and in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, while Rakhine’s mostly Muslim Rohingya flee across the border into neighboring Bangladesh.
Speaking to RFA, U Zawtika—the abbot of Sittwe’s Zawtika monastery—said he has been teaching children of all area religions since 1997 with the aim of promoting ethnic unity and peace.
“There are a lot of Muslims or Bengalis who are good and want to live in peace,” U Zawtika said, using a pejorative term for Myanmar’s Rohingya, who are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.
“But they don’t dare speak out. If they do, for example by speaking to the media as I am doing now, someone will cut their throats.”
Villagers in some cases have detained terrorists and handed them over to the police “because they won’t accept terrorism,” Rakhine border affairs and security minister Col. Phone Tint said.
“One village leader who arrested terrorists and sent them to a police station is now in hiding,” he said, adding, “People like this get threatening phone calls every day.”
Doubts over peace
Also speaking to RFA, many in the region voiced doubts that peace will return soon to Rakhine, though.
“We have been living together with Rakhines and Hindus for a long time,” Rawshi Armed, a Muslim resident of Maungdaw’s Shwezae Kappakung village told RFA. “But now we can’t go anywhere, and no one can come to us.”
“I think we will return to the lives we had only when the situation become stable again,” he said.
“People from this village have said they won’t return home until the government can guarantee their safety,” added San Hla Phyu, an ethnic Rakhine resident of Mawrawaddy village.
“These Bengalis are destroying our system of government, and are even killing other Bengalis who will not ally themselves with them.”
A Hindu woman named Hazole, now living in a refugee camp, agreed.
“We will be able to go home only when these Muslim Bengalis are no longer living in our region,” she said.
Reported by Thiri Min Zin and Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.