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Tag Archive | "Rakhine"

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Special Report: Witnesses tell of organized killings of Myanmar Muslims

Posted on 12 November 2012 by Emperor

Heart wrenching and extremely disturbing. Witnesses tell of organized killings of Muslims in Myanmar. (h/t: Islam West):

By Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall (Reuters) -

On a hot Sunday night in a remote Myanmar village, Tun Naing punched his wife and unleashed hell.

She wanted rice for their three children. He said they couldn’t afford it. Apartheid-like restrictions had prevented Muslims like Tun Naing from working for Buddhists here in Rakhine State along Myanmar’s western border, costing the 38-year-old metalworker his job.

The couple screamed at each other. Tun Naing threw another punch. Neighbors joined in the row.

The commotion stirred up ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the next village, who began shouting anti-Muslim slurs. Relations between the two communities were already so tense that six soldiers were stationed nearby. Tun Naing’s village was soon besieged by hundreds of Rakhines. And Myanmar was plunged into a week of sectarian violence that by official count claimed 89 lives, its worst in decades.

The unrest exposes the dark side of Myanmar’s historic opening: an unleashing of ethnic hatred that was suppressed during 49 years of military rule.

It is a crucial test for an 18-month-old reformist government in one of Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries. Jailed dissidents have been released, a free election held and censorship lifted in a democratic transition so seamless that U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to make a congratulatory visit on November 19.

State media have largely absolved authorities of any role in the October unrest, depicting it mostly as spontaneous eruptions of violence that often ended with Muslims burning their own homes.

But a Reuters investigation paints a more troubling picture: The wave of attacks was organized, central-government military sources told Reuters. They were led by Rakhine nationalists tied to a powerful political party in the state, incited by Buddhist monks, and, some witnesses said, abetted at times by local security forces.

A leader in the regional party, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, denied it had a role in organizing the assaults but conceded the possible involvement of grass-roots supporters. “When the mob rises with very hot ethnic nationalism, it is very difficult to stop them,” Oo Hla Saw told Reuters in an interview.

Two townships – Pauktaw and Kyaukphyu – saw the near-total expulsion of long-established Muslim populations, in what could amount to ethnic cleansing. One village saw a massacre of dozens of Muslims, among them 21 women.

Interviews with government officials, military and police, political leaders and dozens of Buddhists and Muslims across a vast conflict zone suggest Myanmar is entering a more violent phase of persecution of its 800,000 mostly stateless Rohingya, a Muslim minority in an overwhelmingly Buddhist country.

CALLED “BENGALIS”

Rohingya have lived for generations in Rakhine State, where postcard-perfect valleys sweep down to a mangrove-fringed coastline. But Rakhines and other Burmese view them as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh who deserve neither rights nor sympathy. Rakhines reject the term “Rohingya” as a modern invention, referring to them instead as “Bengali” or “kalar” – a pejorative Burmese word for Muslims or people of South Asian descent.

October’s attacks marked an acceleration of violence against the Rohingya. An earlier wave of unrest in June killed at least 80 people. Afterwards, the Rakhine State government imposed a policy of segregating Muslim communities from Buddhists across an area roughly the size of Switzerland.

More than 97 percent of the 36,394 people who have fled the latest violence are Muslims, according to official statistics. Many now live in camps, joining 75,000 mostly Rohingya displaced in June. Others have set sail for Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia on rickety boats, two of which have reportedly capsized, with as many as 150 people believed drowned.

There is no evidence to suggest the Buddhist-dominated national government endorsed the violence. But it appears to have anticipated trouble, stationing troops between Muslim and Buddhist villages a month ago, following rumors of attacks.

“This is racism,” said Shwe Hle Maung, 43, chief of Paik Thay, where impoverished Muslim families cram into thatched homes without electricity. “The government can resolve this if it wants to in five minutes. But they are doing nothing.”

The Rakhine violence is also a test for Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, now opposition leader in parliament, whose studied neutrality has failed to defuse tensions and risks undermining her image as a unifying moral force. Suu Kyi, a devout Buddhist, says she refuses to take sides.

At stake is the stability of one of Myanmar’s most commercially strategic regions and the gold-rush of foreign investment that has come with an easing of Western economic sanctions. The United States and the European Union have suspended, not lifted, sanctions, and have made resolving ethnic conflicts a precondition for further rewards.

In Rakhine State, however, the conflict has spread, most recently to areas where Muslims have long lived peacefully with Buddhists, according to a reconstruction of the violence from October 21 through October 25.

In Paik Thay, the Buddhist Rakhine mobs hurled Molotov cocktails at wooden huts, while Tun Naing and his neighbors fled. Muhammad Amin, 62, said he was beaten with a metal pipe until his skull cracked. The initial violence ended after soldiers fired their guns into the air and police arrested a Rakhine.

The bloodshed was only beginning.

“WE HAD NO PROBLEMS BEFORE”

The next morning, Monday, October 22, hundreds of Rakhine men gathered on the southern outskirts of Mrauk-U, an ancient capital studded with Buddhist temples about 15 miles north of Paik Thay. Then they marched to Tha Yet Oak, a Muslim fishing village of about 1,100 people, and set alight its flimsy bamboo homes.

The Muslim villagers fled by boat to nearby Pa Rein village. The Rakhine mob followed, swelling to nearly 1,000, according to Kyin Sein Aung, 66, a Rakhine farmer from a neighboring Buddhist village.

He didn’t recognize the mob; he described them as “outsiders” and said he suspected they came from Mrauk-U. Hundreds now poured across a stream separating the villages. Others came by boat. By noon, there were about 4,000 Rakhines, according to both Buddhist and Muslim villagers.

Four soldiers shot in the air to disperse the crowd but were easily overwhelmed, witnesses said. The Muslims fought back with spears and machetes, torching a rice mill and several Rakhine homes. Rakhines fired homemade guns.

Six Muslims were killed, including two women, said M.V. Kareem, 63, a Muslim elder in Pa Rein – a toll confirmed by the military. He and other villagers said they saw familiar faces and uniformed police in the angry crowd.

“I don’t know why it started,” said Kareem, who has friends in the Buddhist village. Buddhist farmer Kyin Sein Aung was baffled, too. For years, he worked in rice fields shoulder-to-shoulder with his Muslim neighbors. “We had no problems before.”

Communities like Pa Rein had avoided the June violence. But new strains emerged with the subsequent segregation of Muslim and Buddhist villages, a draconian order imposed by the Rakhine State government. Intended to prevent more violence, it backfired.

Impoverished Muslim villagers could no longer buy rice and other supplies in Buddhist towns. Transgressors were sometimes beaten with sticks or fists to warn others, according to people interviewed in six Muslim villages. Fishing nets were confiscated.

Desperation grew, with rice stocks dwindling as the monsoon peaked in October. Some Muslim villagers stole rice from Buddhist farmers, further stoking anger, said farmer Kyin Sein Aung.

By 4:30 p.m. that same Monday, several thousand Rakhines were massed outside Sam Ba Le, a village in neighboring Minbya township. By now, a pattern was emerging.

Rakhines flanked the village, hurling Molotov cocktails and firing homemade guns, said a village elder. Muslims fought back, sometimes with spears or machetes, but were overpowered. Government troops shot rounds into the air. By the time the crowd left Sam Ba Le at 6 p.m., one Muslim man had been killed and two-thirds of its 331 homes razed.

As night fell, the townships of Mrauk-U and Minbya imposed 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfews. But worse was to come.

“RAKHINES WILL DRINK KALAR BLOOD”

Tuesday began with a massacre. Reuters reporters visited dozens of villages in Rakhine State. But there was only one where their entry was barred by soldiers and police: the remote, riverside community of Yin Thei, in the shadow of the Chin mountains.

What happened there suggested a bolder and better organized mob, aided by incompetent or complicit police.

By 7 a.m. on Tuesday, hundreds of Rakhine arrived on boats to surround Yin Thei, said a resident contacted by telephone. By late afternoon, the Muslim villagers were fending off waves of attacks. The resident said children, including two of his young cousins, were killed by sword-wielding Rakhines. Most houses were burned down.

Musi Dula, a Muslim farmer from a nearby village, said he heard gunfire at about 5 p.m. A Yin Thei villager telephoned Musi Dula’s neighbours and said police were shooting at them. Another farmer nervously told Reuters how he watched from afar as police opened fire from the village’s western edge, also at about 5 p.m.

The official death toll is five Rakhines and 51 Muslims killed at Yin Thei, including 21 Muslim women, said a senior police officer in Naypyitaw, the new capital of Myanmar. He denied security forces opened fire or abetted the mobs. The Yin Thei resident put the toll higher, saying 62 people were buried in small graves of about 10 bodies each.

As Yin Thei burned, the last of nearly 4,000 Rohingya Muslims were fleeing the large port town of Pauktaw, in a dramatic exodus by sea that had begun five days earlier.

Tensions had simmered since October 12, when four Rohingya fishermen were killed off Pauktaw, said a military source. Afterwards, local authorities had ordered Rohingya to stay in their own villages for their safety. Men couldn’t work in town, and few dared to go fishing.

“The government gave us food but it wasn’t enough,” said Num Marot, 48. “We didn’t dare stay.”

Pauktaw’s Rohingya began cramming into boats for the two-hour voyage to the state capital, Sittwe. Num Marot’s new home would be a tarpaulin tent in a squalid camp already packed with tens of thousands of people displaced by the June violence.

About 30 minutes after the last boat pushed out to sea, the two Rohingya neighborhoods in Pauktaw were set ablaze, witnesses said. All 335 homes were destroyed. The charred and roofless frame of a once-busy mosque is marked with graffiti: “Rakhines will drink kalar blood,” it reads, using the slur for Muslims.

Kay Aye, deputy chairman of Pauktaw township, insists Rohingya set alight their own homes and blames the communal problems on the Muslim population’s doubling in 10 years. “Muslims want all people to become Muslims. That’s the Muslim problem,” he said. “Most of the Muslims here are uneducated, so they tend to be ruder than Rakhines.”

Tuesday night fell. Soon a new inferno began in Kyaukphyu, a sleepy port town 65 miles southeast of Sittwe with strategic significance: gas and oil pipelines lead from this township across Myanmar to China’s energy-hungry northwest.

So far, the violence had targeted Rohingya Muslims. About a fifth of Kyaukphyu town’s 24,000 people are Muslims, and many of them are Kaman. The Kaman are recognized as one of Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups; they usually hold citizenship and can be hard to tell apart from Rakhine Buddhists.

Most Kyaukphyu Muslims lived in East Pikesake, a neighborhood wedged between Rakhine communities and the jade-green waters of the Bay of Bengal.

Relations between the two communities had began to unravel after the June violence. The destruction of Buddhist temples by mobs in Muslim Bangladesh in early October further stoked the animosity.

The first fire began in East Pikesake on Tuesday evening, and soon dozens of houses, Rakhine and Muslim, were ablaze. The streets around the Old Village Jamae Mosque, one of East Pikesake’s two mosques, became the front line in pitched battles between the two communities.

Rakhines fought with swords, iron rods and traditional Rakhine spears. The Muslims had jinglees – long darts made from sharpened bicycle spokes or fish hooks, which are fitted with plastic streamers and shot from catapults.

With the sea behind them, Pikesake’s Muslims were cut off from escape by Rakhine crowds so large that the security forces, which numbered about 80 police and 100 soldiers, were overwhelmed, said Police Lieutenant Myint Khin, Kyaukphyu’s station commander. “We couldn’t control them,” he said.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Muslim and Rakhine mobs, said Police Lieutenant Myint Khin. The military fired live rounds, said a source in the security forces, but evidently not into the crowd. Staff at Kyaukphyu hospital told Reuters they treated injuries from blades, jinglees and fire, but none from bullets.

“TAUGHT THEM A LESSON”

The next morning, the rest of East Pikesake went up in flames. Myint Hlaing, a local official, said the heat was “more intense than a crematorium.” It singed the fronds of five-story-high palm trees.

Rakhine men had begun pouring in from surrounding villages. Unpublished video shot by an amateur cameraman shows young men in red bandanas entering the town in convoys of tractors. They helped to terrorize Muslims living elsewhere in Kyaukphyu, according to Muslim and Rakhine witnesses. Police Lieutenant Myint Khin said the security forces were too overstretched to stop them.

Men with swords pulled Susu, 39, and her husband Than Twa, 48, from a house in west Kyaukphyu. “They cut him here and here and here,” said Susu, chopping at her arms and legs. She recognised many of her attackers: They were neighbours, she said. Susu ran off to find some soldiers, who escorted her back to rescue her husband. He was dead.

Only two forces could give the mob pause. The first was the national military, which scattered crowds by shooting in the air. The second was Rakhine Buddhist officials such as Myint Hlaing.

Some officials joined the mob, said local Muslims, but others confronted it. Facing cries of “Kill the kalar protector!” Myint Hlaing, 68, pleaded with angry Rakhines outside Kaman Muslim homes in his neighbourhood. “If we hadn’t protected the Kamans, their houses would be destroyed and the people dead,” he said.

By mid-morning, the military began evacuating Muslims by bus to a guarded refugee camp outside town.

Back in Pikesake, which was still burning, the Muslims had only one exit: the sea. A flotilla of fishing boats was preparing to leave its blazing shores.

“People swam out to the boats but were chased down and stabbed before they got there,” said Abdulloh, 35, a Rohingya fisherman. Xanabibi, 46, a Kaman woman, said she watched from a boat as three Rakhine men with swords set upon a Muslim teenager. “I watched them … cut up his body into four pieces,” she said.

Rakhine Buddhists claim they witnessed atrocities, too. Myint Hlaing said he saw a Muslim on one departing boat hold aloft a severed Rakhine head.

By mid-afternoon, at least 80 boats, many overloaded with 130 or more people, had set sail for Sittwe, said witnesses. An additional 1,700 or more Muslims ended up at a squalid, military-guarded camp outside Kyaukphyu.

The official statistics tell of a lopsided battle at Kyaukphyu. Of the 11 dead, nine were Muslims. Nearly all of the 891 houses destroyed belonged to Muslims; nearly all of the 5,301 people displaced were Muslims. Four of Kyaukphyu’s five mosques were destroyed.

A prominent Rakhine businessman, who requested anonymity, showed little sympathy for his former neighbours. “The majority taught them a lesson,” he said.

Read the rest…

 

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Scratch One Off the Hero List?: Suu Kyi ‘says she cannot back Myanmar’s Rohingya’

Posted on 05 November 2012 by Garibaldi

Suu Kyi in parliament

We have been reporting on the violence being perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, as well as the long history of persecution the minority group has faced in their land of origin since the recent conflagration in June.

In a blow to “moral leadership,” famed democracy activist Suu Kyi has essentially thrown the Rohingya under the bus. This comes at a time when reports are showing that the “crises is deepening” with many Rohingya now attempting even more perilous boat voyages to flee to safety in Bangladesh and Thailand, only to be turned away.

Suu Kyi makes a false equivalency between the perpetrators and the victims, as though the Rohingya are too be blamed for the violence and statelessness wrought upon them.

Shame on you Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi ‘says she cannot back Myanmar’s Rohingya

AP

YANGON — Aung San Suu Kyi has declined to speak out on behalf of Rohingya Muslims and insisted she will not use “moral leadership” to back either side in deadly communal unrest in west Myanmar, reports said.

The Nobel laureate, who has caused disappointment among international supporters for her muted response to violence that has swept Rakhine state, said both Buddhist and Muslim communities were “displeased” that she had not taken their side.

More than 100,000 people have been displaced since June in two major outbreaks of violence in the state, where renewed clashes last month uprooted about 30,000 people.

Dozens have been killed on both sides and thousands of homes torched.

“I am urging tolerance but I do not think one should use one’s moral leadership, if you want to call it that, to promote a particular cause without really looking at the sources of the problems,” Suu Kyi told the BBC on Saturday.

Speaking in the capital Naypyidaw after talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who has said the EU is “deeply concerned” about the violence and its consequences for Myanmar’s reforms, Suu Kyi said she could not speak out in favour of the stateless Rohingya.

“I know that people want me to take one side or the other, so both sides are displeased because I will not take a stand with them,” she said.

The democracy champion, who is now a member of parliament after dramatic changes overseen by a quasi-civilian regime that took power last year, said the rule of law should be established as a first step before looking into other problems.

“Because if people are killing one another and setting fire to one another’s houses, how are we going to come to any kind of reasonable settlement?” she said.

Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya are seen by the government and many in the country as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. They face severe discrimination that activists say has led to a deepening alienation.

The Rohingya, who make up the vast majority of those displaced in the fighting, are described by the UN as among the world’s most persecuted minorities.

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President Barack Obama Eases Sanctions on Burma Even as Violent Onslaught Against Rohingya Muslims Continues

Posted on 11 October 2012 by Garibaldi

The central mosque in Sittwe was torched by anti-Rohingya rioters.

President Barack Obama’s administration has moved to further ease sanctions on the Burmese government, easing a ban on imports,

Washington’s decision to ease a ban on imports from Myanmar won praise Thursday in the emerging Southeast Asian democracy, with a government official giving credit to both the country’s reformist president and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

This comes at a time when the Rohingya Muslims, considered one of the most oppressed peoples in the world are continuing to face daily violence.

Anti-Rohingya protests have been continuous in Western Burma, with the past several weeks seeing a wave of fresh protests and violence. Most significantly there are conflicting reports about which mosque was burnt down in Sittwe on Sunday, some reports say it was the 800 year old “Sawduro Bor Masjid” that was torched and burned to the ground while other sources are reporting that it was the 150 year old main mosque known as Jame-Mosque. The West-Burma-Bangladesh region is becoming increasingly unstable, as we are also now witnessing for the first time reprisal attacks in Bangladesh against Buddhists, fostering a dangerous climate that has the potential to become an unspeakable nightmarish zone of violence,

YANGON: Hundreds of Buddhist women protested on Wednesday in western Myanmar against the presence of stateless Rohingya Muslims in the violence-hit region, an organiser said.

The demonstrators urged the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to stop its assistance to Rohingya in Rakhine state, where tensions have been running high since deadly Buddhist-Muslim clashes broke out in June.

“We protested against the OIC and also Bengalis as we don’t want them on our soil,” organiser Nyo Aye told AFP by telephone from the state capital Sittwe.

Myanmar’s estimated 800,000 Rohingya are viewed as illegal immigrants by the government and by many Burmese, who refer to them as Bengalis.

The rally came a day after hundreds of monks took to the streets of Sittwe to protest against local Muslims and the OIC’s activities.

The tensions in Rakhine have spread to neighbouring Bangladesh, where police said last week they had arrested nearly 300 people in connection with a wave of violence targeting Buddhist homes and temples. afp

The Obama administration’s easing of sanctions on the Burmese government also comes at a time in which Human Rights researchers and activists are warning about the “permanent segregation of Rohingyas,” who are being herded into “temporary” refugee camps,

Following sectarian violence in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine in June, human rights researchers are now warning that the government appears to be attempting to permanently house parts of the stateless Muslim-minority Rohingya in “temporary” refugee camps, segregating them from the rest of the population.

“There has been no acknowledgement that people have to go home eventually – the solution appears to be that the Rohingya can simply live where they have come to be,” John Sifton, with Human Rights Watch (which released a related report in August), said in Washington on Tuesday. “Segregation has become the status quo.”

Aung Aung Oo, a Burmese national who has been reporting on the Rohingya crises since June for Salem-News discusses what it will take to restore communal harmony between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, a harmony that existed for centuries,

To maintain communal harmony between these two ethnic groups, the restoration of the Rohingya’s rights is essential. Without it, the very idea of a peaceful community might be a legend.

The restoration of Rohingyan rights, i.e. citizenship is a fact which US deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration has echoed as well in a speech to the Open Society Foundation and Refugree International, essentially saying that, ‘the lack of citizenship must be addressed for any long-term solution to the distress in the Rohingya community to dissipate.’

Related Articles:

BBC: Muslims Homes Razed in Burma’s Rakhine State

-An Open Letter from the Buddhist Community on Islamophobia

-Warrior Monks: The Untold Story of Buddhist Violence (I)

-Burmese Buddhists Attack Muslim Pilgrims, Killing 9

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