SHAFAQNA-- The town of Meiktila in central Myanmar presents a tranquil scene on a hot April day: A woman presses juice from sugar cane while customers loll around in the midday heat. The town is right in the center of the country, on a broad and arid plain where white cows graze among palm trees and pointy pagodas. It's a bustling trading post on the road between the Myanmarese capital, Naypyidaw, and the country's second-largest city, Mandalay.
But just down the street, there is evidence of a conflagration: Large areas have been reduced to heaps of charred rubble. In a Muslim neighborhood, the Thiri Mingalar Mosque still stands, but its facade is blackened and some of its minarets have been smashed.
The debris is left from three days of rioting between Buddhists and Muslims last month. Muslims account for a third of the town's population of around 10,000. Their homes and mosques were the worst hit.
This week, the European Union recognized reforms in Myanmar, formerly Burma, by lifting all sanctions except for an arms embargo. But human-rights groups were quick to criticize the decision. They are concerned about recent violence between Buddhists and Muslims, and they say that the government is either negligent in stopping it, or worse, complicit in it.
Violence In Western Myanmar
Last year, more than 100 people were killed in sectarian violence in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh. Now the tensions appear to have spread to its heartland and threaten to undermine the country's nascent democratic reforms.
Violence among religious groups was largely suppressed during more than a half-century of military rule. What shocked many folks about the riots in Meiktila was that their apparent cause was no bigger than a hairpin.
Local media reports say it began when a Buddhist couple went to a jewelry store to sell a gold hairpin. The Muslim store owners damaged the tiny ornament. An argument ensued and the store owners beat up the customers.
The store owners were recently sentenced to 14 years each in jail. Ethnic Indian Muslims are predominant in the Myanmarese gold trade, which has been a source of economic rivalry with some of the ethnic Burman majority.
Soon after the fight at the shop, Muslim food vendor Mohammed Sharif, 29, says he saw Buddhist mobs in the streets, shouting as if they were drunk.
"I saw they were armed," he says, "and they were shouting 'Kill the Kalars!' They were carrying swords."
Kalar is a racist slur directed at people of darker skin color.
Many Muslims saw the mobs seek shelter at a local stadium, which is where I met Muslim resident Win Sint Soe. He says that a group of men offered to escort his brother and his brother's family to safety. But he says it was a trick.
"They gave my brother a choice of who in his family would live," he recounts. "He told his wife to go and not look back. My brother sacrificed his life. The police later arrested one of the murderers.
U Win Htein, a member of the opposition National League for Democracy who represents Meiktila in Parliament, says that at first, armed mobs prevented police and firefighters from rescuing victims. Only when the authorities got Buddhist monks to ride on the fire engines would the angry crowds let them approach the blazing buildings, he says.
Win Htein says he witnessed a Buddhist mob attacking an Islamic school where scores of Muslims were sheltering. He says he asked the police to intervene, but the Muslims were dragged out and killed while the police just stood there and watched.
"I saw seven people killed in front of my eyes," he says. So I felt disgusted, because [the police] were like statues, just standing there."
Win Htein notes that at the time, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told local authorities to use force, if necessary, to stop the violence, saying she would take responsibility for the decision. But local authorities declined to act. This may have been, Win Htein speculates, because authorities had been harshly criticized for injuring monks during a crackdown on protesters at the Chinese-invested Letpadaung mine last year.
After three days of rioting, President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency and sent troops to Meiktila. Dozens were arrested. But by then, 46 people had been killed and 1,500 homes destroyed.
Little Trust In Security Forces
While some people accuse security forces of inaction, others blame them for secretly stirring up the unrest, either to distract from other problems or to create a mess they could take credit for cleaning up.
Many Myanmarese assume this is the situation because they've seen or heard about it before. In 1967, for example, authorities tacitly allowed the spread of anti-Chinese riots, partly because they diverted public anger away from soaring rice prices.
At a Buddhist temple near the center of town, vendor Sharif is collecting a sack of food and medicine from civil society groups. Like many Muslims in Meiktila, he is the descendant of Indian immigrants to then-Burma. He says he trusts his Buddhist neighbors. That's why he's staying at home, and not in the stadium with other refugees. And that's why he believes the violence was instigated by outsiders.
"I have lived here since I was born," Sharif says. "Muslims and Buddhists have been living together and there have never been any problems, so I feel that someone's manipulating things behind the scenes."
Veteran pro-democracy activist Min Ko Naing, who was in Meiktila during the violence, says he saw people he believed to be professional "terrorists," who were clearly organized and wearing matching wristbands. But he declines to say who these people might be.
Some reports blame Buddhist extremists for inciting the riots with anti-Muslim hate speech. They point to a Mandalay-based monk named U Wirathu. He leads a Buddhist group known as 969 that discourages Buddhists from intermarrying or doing business with Muslims.
But many Buddhists reject that interpretation of their religion. Sharif's neighbor is a Buddhist man whose first name is Min Tun.
"This violence," he says, "is a failure of Buddhist mindfulness, wisdom and lovingkindness."
Min Tun asked that we not reveal his family name. That's because he is sheltering a Muslim friend in his home.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) Human Rights Watch on Monday accused authorities in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State of crimes against humanity in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims last year, charges the government dismissed as one-sided and “unacceptable”.
Security forces were complicit in disarming Rohingya Muslims of makeshift weapons and standing by, or even joining in, as Rakhine Buddhist mobs killed men, women and children in June and October 2012, New York-based HRW said.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has asked Myanmar to permit a ministerial delegation to visit the country in a bid to discuss the recent outbreak of violence against Muslims.
In a Sunday statement issued following its meeting in Saudi Arabia, the 57-member body also urged the UN Human Rights Commission to send a fact-finding mission to the Southeast Asian country.
The statement urged Myanmarese authorities to “strongly respond to the organization’s appeal and allow a ministerial OIC delegation to visit" the country.
In March, more than 40 people were killed and a number of mosques and homes of Muslims were burned in central Myanmar, indicating a rise in the persecution of Muslims in the country.
Myanmar’s Islamic Religious Affairs Council and the Myanmar Muslim National Affairs Organization later appealed to the government of President Thein Sein to take swift action to stop the ‘violent attacks.’-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) Myanmar's president says his country needs to learn from the violence and instability that has wracked the country over the last two years if it is to overcome the challenge of democratising the nation.
Thein Sein spoke on Sunday to mark the start a day earlier of a traditional New Year holiday that is celebrated across Southeast Asia with friendly water fights.
"Our society has overcome many difficulties and challenges together so we can emerge as a society in which multiple races and religions coexist harmoniously, while still preserving our own customs and traditions," he said in a televised speech.
Sein, a former general, took office two years ago after Myanmar's long ruling junta stepped down.
He has led a transition towards democratic rule since then, but the country has been plagued by a war with ethnic Kachin rebels in the north, sectarian violence in western Rakhine state, and anti-Muslim clashes in central Myanmar last month.
Buddhist-Muslim clashes in Rakhine last year left at least 180 people dead, mostly minority Muslim Rohingya.
The riots in March left 43 people dead, thousands displaced and saw homes and mosques destroyed.
Three people including a gold shop owner were last jailed for 14 years in connection with the riots that began in the town of Meiktila in central Myanmar on March 20.
Radical monks have been linked to the subsequent unrest, which observers said appeared to be well organised.
Rights groups have accused security forces of standing by while the attacks took place.
Myanmar's efforts at democratisation had been hampered by "black spots such as disunity, conflict and instability," Sein said.
Political changes should be targetted with "patience, tolerance and persistence", he urged citizens.
The situation has calmed since Thein Sein on March 28 vowed a tough response against those behind the violence.
Myanmar's New Year, known as the Thingyan, is a hugely popular mass celebration in which people throw water at each other to symbolise the washing away of the previous year's bad deeds.
Festivities, increasingly raucous as the country opens to the world, have been marred by bloodshed in the past, with a series of blasts in 2010 that left 10 people dead and about 170 wounded.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Myanmar’s reformist president called for multi faith harmony in a national address to mark the country’s New Year celebrations Sunday, following recent anti-Muslim unrest that has scarred communities.
Thein Sein dedicated his speech to promoting religious unity as the nation remains tense after a wave of rioting last month that left 43 dead, thousands displaced and saw homes and mosques destroyed.
“Our society has overcome many difficulties and challenges together so we can emerge as a society in which multiple races and religions coexist harmoniously, while still preserving our own customs and traditions,” he said in a televised speech.
The former general, whose reforms have garnered widespread praise, said the country’s efforts at democratization had been hampered by “black spots such as disunity, conflict and instability”.
He urged Myanmar citizens to work together to build on the country’s political changes with “patience, tolerance and persistence”.
Three people including a gold shop owner were last week jailed for 14 years in connection with the religious riots that began in the town of Meiktila in central Myanmar on March 20.
Radical monks have been linked to the subsequent unrest, which observers said appeared to be well organized. Rights groups have accused security forces of standing by while the attacks took place.
The situation has calmed since Thein Sein on March 28 vowed a tough response against those behind the violence, which follows Buddhist-Muslim clashes in the western state of Rakhine last year that left at least 180 people dead, mostly minority Muslim Rohingya.
Myanmar’s New Year, known as the Thingyan, is a hugely popular mass celebration in which people throw water at each other to symbolize the washing away of the previous year’s bad deeds.
Festivities, increasingly raucous as the country opens to the world, have been marred by bloodshed in the past, with a series of blasts in 2010 that left 10 people dead and about 170 wounded.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- At least eight people have died and 21 more were injured by fighting between Buddhist and Muslim asylum seekers from Myanmar at an immigration detention centre in Indonesia.
Police said the violence broke out early on Friday and lasted for about two hours at the detention centre in the northern Sumatra province, where more than 100 Rohingya migrants and 11 fishermen from Myanmar were being held.
The fight between the detainees reportedly erupted after they heard about communal violence in their homeland, which has left at least 43 people dead and many Muslim homes and mosques destroyed, police said.
"They managed to see some photos of the violence in Myanmar, including buildings on fire, and we believe that's when the violence broke out," local police chief Endro Kiswanto said.
He said all eight Buddhist men, who were reportedly illegal fishermen, were dead when police arrived at the detention centre in the early hours of Friday morning, and 15 Rohingyas were injured.
All of the victims were rushed to a hospital in the provincial capital Medan.
Heru Prakoso, North Sumatra police spokesman told AFP that the detainees fought with pieces of sharp wood. Those killed were "beaten to death with wooden objects", he said.
The detention centre held 280 asylum seekers and illegal fishermen from Myanmar, Prakoso said.
Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen, reporting from Jakarta, said the Buddhist detainees "were clearly outnumbered" by Rohingya refugees, who were on their way to Australia.
"This is a very bizarre incident," Vaessen said. "It's very unclear at this stage why the police or the security guards could not stop them from fighting for two hours".
Boats carrying asylum seekers fleeing sectarian violence in Myanmar are increasingly ending up on Indonesian shores. Many of those arriving face long stints in detention awaiting UN assessment for refugee status.
Last month's communal violence in Myanmar has left more than 1,300 homes and other buildings destroyed, according to state media.
Sixty-eight people have been arrested in connection with the unrest, which has left 11,376 people homeless, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.
The clashes were apparently triggered by an argument in a gold shop in the central town of Meiktila that turned into a riot, but witnesses said the wave of violence since then appears to have been well organised.
It is the worst sectarian strife since violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year left at least 180 people dead, and more than 100,000 homeless.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week urged Myanmar to investigate the failure of police to stop the violence.
"The government should investigate responsibility for the violence in Meiktila and the failure of the police to stop wanton killings and the burning of entire neighborhoods," said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Buddhist and Muslim asylum seekers from Myanmar brawled with rocks and knives Friday at an immigration detention center in Indonesia, leaving eight combatants dead and another 15 injured, police said.
The melee broke out at the center in North Sumatra province, where more than 100 Rohingya migrants — most intercepted off Indonesia's coast in rickety boats — and 11 illegal fishermen from Myanmar were being held together, said local police chief Endro Kiswanto.
He said witnesses told police the clash started after a Muslim Rohingya confronted a Buddhist fisherman about sectarian violence in their homeland. Insults were traded, and people began fighting with rocks and knives.
Eight Buddhists were killed, and 15 Rohingya were injured. Three other Buddhists escaped unharmed, Kiswanto said.
All of the victims were rushed to a hospital in the provincial capital, Medan, about 23 kilometers (14 miles) south of Belawan.
"We are still investigating the incident, including how they got knives," he said. "We will expedite their repatriation."
Sectarian violence erupted in central Myanmar last month when mobs of armed Buddhists torched Muslim-owned homes and shops. Dozens were killed and thousands, mostly Muslims, were forced to flee.
Last year, hundreds of people were killed and more than 100,000 made homeless in violence in western Myanmar between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.- www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Thirteen children have been killed after a fire, apparently caused by an electrical fault, engulfed an Islamic school dormitory in Myanmar's largest city.
The dead in Tuesday's fire in Yangon, all boys, died of suffocation in the early morning, witnesses and officials said.
Police officer Thet Lwin said the fire was triggered by an overheated inverter "and not due to any criminal activity".
The building housed a mosque and a religious school where children were staying while taking a summer class. Local residents said the victims were believed to be orphans.
Riot police were deployed nearby as some Muslims gathering outside the charred building feared the fire was linked to sectarian violence that has shaken the nation.
Neighbours and witnesses said it appeared the crowded dormitory locked its doors due to heightened security concerns.
"It seemed the boys didn't get a chance to get away because the doors were locked because of the unstable situation," a resident said.
The blaze comes against a backdrop of heightened Buddhist-Muslim tensions in Myanmar. Forty-three people have been killed in sectarian violence since March 20.
Police called for calm and promised to establish a committee - including Muslim leaders - to look into the cause of the fire.
Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from Bangkok in nearby Thailand, said that there have been reports of some muslim communities within Yangon, have been trying to arm themselves for defending against any future attacks.
"The tension is very high and I guess that's why we've seen authorities come very quickly after this fire and say that it was started when the transformer overheated," said Hay, emphasising that the authorities were concerned that this incident could spark further unrest between the Muslim and Buddhist communities.
A police officer said the 13 dead in Tuesday's blaze were among more than 70 people sleeping at the school when the fire broke out.
"The rest of the children were rescued," he said.
The Myanmar Police Force reported on its official Facebook page that the victims died from burns or smoke inhalation.
"According to the investigation by township police officers, the fire was caused by excessively high [electric] voltage," it added.
According to official records, electrical faults and overheating are major causes of fires in Myanmar's largest city.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Jazeera
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Anti-Muslim mobs rampaged through three more towns in Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist heartland over the weekend, destroying mosques and burning dozens of homes despite government efforts to stem the nation’s latest outbreak of sectarian violence.
President Thein Sein had declared an emergency in central Myanmar on Friday and deployed army troops to the worst-hit city, Meikhtila, where 32 people were killed and 10,000 mostly Muslim residents were displaced. But even as soldiers restored order there after several days of anarchy in which armed Buddhists torched the city’s Muslim quarters, the unrest has spread south towards the capital, Naypyidaw.
A Muslim resident of Tatkone, about 80km (50 miles) from Meikhtila, said by telephone that a group of about 20 men ransacked a one-story brick mosque there late on Sunday night, pelting it with stones and smashing windows before soldiers fired shots to drive them away. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, he said he believed the perpetrators were not from Tatkone.
A day earlier, another mob burnt down a mosque and 50 homes in the nearby town of Yamethin, state television reported. Another mosque and several buildings were destroyed the same day in Lewei, further south. It was not immediately clear who was behind the violence, and no clashes or casualties were reported in the three towns.
The upsurge in sectarian unrest is casting a shadow over Mr Thein Sein’s administration as it struggles to make democratic changes in the southeast Asian country after half a century of army rule officially ended two years ago this month.
Similar violence that rocked western Rakhine state last year, pitting ethnic Rakhine Buddhists against Rohingya Muslims, killed hundreds and drove 100,000 from their homes.
The Rohingya are widely denigrated as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and most are denied passports as a result. The Muslim population of central Myanmar, by contrast, is mostly of Indian origin and does not face the same questions over nationality.
The emergence of sectarian conflict beyond Rakhine state is an ominous development, one that indicates anti-Muslim sentiment has intensified nationwide since last year and, if left unchecked, could spread.
Sectarian and ethnic tensions are not new in Myanmar, which is also home to small Christian, Hindu and animist minorities.
Muslims account for about 4 per cent of the nation’s 60m people, and during the long era of authoritarian rule, military governments twice drove out hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, while smaller clashes had occurred elsewhere. About one-third of the nation’s population comprises ethnic minority groups; most have waged wars against the government for autonomy.
Analysts say racism has also played a role. Unlike the ethnic Burmese majority, most Muslims in Myanmar are of South Asian descent, populations with darker skin that migrated to Myanmar centuries ago from what are now parts of India and Bangladesh.
The latest bloodshed “shows that inter-communal tensions in Myanmar are not just limited to the Rakhine and Rohingya in northern Rakhine state,” said Jim Della-Giacoma of the International Crisis Group. “Myanmar is a country with dozens of localised faultlines and grievances that were papered over during the authoritarian years that we are just beginning to see and understand. It is a paradox of transitions that greater freedom does allow these local conflicts to resurface.”
“If a democratic state is the nation’s goal, they need to find a place for all its people as equal citizens,” Mr Della-Giacoma said. “Given the country’s history, it won’t be easy.”
The government has put the total death toll in Meikhtila at 32, and authorities say they have detained at least 35 people allegedly involved in arson and violence in the region.
On Sunday, Vijay Nambiar, the UN secretary-general’s special adviser on Myanmar, toured Meikhtila, visiting displaced residents and calling on the government to punish those responsible.
Mr Nambiar said he was encouraged to learn that some individuals in both communities had helped each other and that religious leaders were now advocating peace.
Muslims in Meikhtila, who make up about 30 per cent of the city’s 100,000 inhabitants, appeared to have borne the brunt of the devastation. At least five mosques were set ablaze from Wednesday to Friday, and most homes and shops burnt were Muslim-owned.
Chaos began on Wednesday after an argument broke out between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers. Once news spread that a Muslim man had killed a Buddhist monk, Buddhist mobs rampaged through a Muslim neighbourhood and the situation quickly spiralled out of control.
Residents and activists said the police did little to stop the rioters or reacted too slowly, allowing the violence to escalate.
One Muslim man in Meikhtila named Aung Thein, whose family has fled, said the situation was still tense there.
People are still threatening Muslims who have attempted to return to their destroyed homes to sift through the rubble and salvage their belongings. “We only want to return to our homes and rebuild our lives,” he said.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Shafaqna (Shia International News Association) – Burma’s president has declared a state of emergency after two days of sectarian violence in a central town that has killed at least 20 [Moslim] people.
The the town of Meikhtila remains tense and dangerous and residents are too scared to walk the streets, said Win Htein, a politician from the opposition National League for Democracy.
Fires set to Muslim homes continued to burn as angry Buddhist residents and monks prevented authorities from putting out the blazes, he said.
At least five mosques were set on fire during the violence that started on Wednesday, reportedly triggered by an argument between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers.
A Buddhist monk was among the first killed, inflaming tensions that led a Buddhist mob to rampage through a Muslim neighbourhood.
Meikhtila is about 340 miles (550km) north of the main city of Rangoon with a population of about 100,000 people, of whom about a third are Muslims, according to Win.
He said that before this week’s violence the community had 17 mosques.
It was difficult to determine the extent of destruction in the town because residents were too afraid to walk the streets and were sheltering in monasteries or other locations away from the violence.
“We don’t feel safe and we have now moved inside a monastery,” said Sein Shwe, a shop owner. “The situation is unpredictable and dangerous.”
Occasional isolated violence involving Burma’s majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities has occurred for decades.
The violence in Meikhtila was the latest sectarian unrest after clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya last year in western Rakhine state left more than 200 people dead and 100,000 homeless.
Source: The guardian