Fresh Communal Violence Hits Central Burma

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An elderly woman sifts through the burnt rubble of her home in Meikhtila, March 23, 2013.
An elderly woman sifts through the burnt rubble of her home in Meikhtila, March 23, 2013.

Ten people were injured and dozens of shops and homes destroyed in central Burma Tuesday during fresh clashes between Muslims and Buddhists that also led to the destruction of an area mosque, state media reported.

The latest religious violence to hit Burma erupted in the town of Oakkan, located about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Rangoon, after a young Muslim woman accidentally turned over the alms bowl of a novice Buddhist monk, a state television broadcast said.

Police were forced to fire warning shots over the heads of a mob that had congregated to attack a mosque and were looting local stores, in the first clashes reported since late March when Buddhist mobs attacked Muslims in the town of Meikhtila and several villages, killing at least 43 people.

Security forces opened fire as a crowd pelted stones at a religious building and destroyed and looted shops, according to reports which said 10 people were injured.

It is unclear whether anyone had been arrested in connection with the violence, but security has been beefed up.

An RFA Burmese Service reporter who had traveled to Oakkan to cover the riots said that as many as 50 shops and homes were destroyed on Tuesday.

The destroyed mosque had been surrounded by authorities, and several police cars could be seen driving around the town.

Around 200 police officers as well as several military personnel and officers had converged on Oakkan following the unrest.

Several houses and shops in the downtown area were lying in ruins and around 200 people were searching through the rubble.

Residents said that the clash had begun when “a Buddhist novice and a Muslim woman bumped into each other accidentally in Oakkan Market” early in the morning. They said angry crowds began attacking buildings in the area around noon.

Shwe Nya Wa, a well-known Buddhist monk from Rangoon, has traveled to the area to help restore calm, as well as members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party from nearby Hmawbe township and members of the 88 Generation Students civil society group.

After security forces quelled the violence, the Oakkan township administrator invoked Section 188 of the Burmese Penal Code, which carries severe punishment for acts of disobedience that endanger public safety.

Security forces from Rangoon led by Rangoon division police chief Win Naing were collaborating with local security forces to ensure regional stability.

Earlier unrest

The violence in Oakkan is the latest unrest to hit central Burma, following a number of attacks by Buddhist mobs on Muslim communities in March.

At least 43 people were reported dead and thousands, mostly Muslims, driven from their homes and businesses as the latest violence spread through central Burma last month.

The recent violence has been linked to radical monks and has triggered international concern. Rights groups have accused the security forces of standing by while the attacks, which appeared to be well organized, took place.

Religious unrest has threatened to derail Burma’s plans to rebrand itself as a democracy under reformist President Thein Sein, whose nominally civilian government took power in 2011 following decades of military misrule.

Last year, clashes between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhines broke out twice in Burma's Rakhine state, leaving at least 180 dead and tens of thousands homeless. Rights groups said Rohingyas bore the brunt of the violence.

Around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas live in Rakhine state, but most of them, according to rights groups, have been denied citizenship as they are considered by most Burmese and the government to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

The stateless Rohingyas have been described by the U.N. as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

A long-awaited official report on last year’s violence in Rakhine state recommended earlier this week that security forces be doubled in the area and given better resources, while navy patrols should be bolstered and a maritime police force established to deter immigrants arriving by boat.

The report also recommended that more aid be channeled to help Rohingyas displaced in the clashes and called for a process to examine their citizenship status, though it did not hint at any major reforms that would embrace them as citizens.

The government-appointed commission’s recommendations follow a report last week from Human Rights Watch accusing security forces of complicity in “ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya—a claim the government denies.

Reported by Kyaw Zaw Win and Thuza for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.





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