Death Toll Passes 20 in Burma’s Violence

Death Toll Passes 20 in Burma’s Violence

Policemen stand guard as firemen work to extinguish fire during fighting between Buddhist Arakan and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe on June 12, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

SITTWE, Burma — People fled their burning homes and Burma’s security forces struggled to contain communal violence Tuesday in a western region where state media reported the death toll climbed to 21.

The conflict pitting ethnic Arakan Buddhists against stateless Rohingya Muslims in coastal Arakan State marks some of the worst sectarian unrest recorded in Burma in years. President Thein Sein has declared an emergency in Arakan State and warned that the spiraling violence could threaten the democratic reforms tentatively transforming the country after half a century of military rule.

From Friday through Monday, the evening’s news report said, 21 people have been killed, 21 wounded and 1,662 houses burned down around Arakan State. The mass violence started Friday in Maungdaw township, when what was said to be a mob of 1,000 Muslims—described as “terrorists” in the state media—went on a rampage and had to be restrained by armed troops.

The violence afterward spread, including to the state capital, Sittwe.

The television report said the authorities have tried to restore stability but clashes continued and arson had been committed in Sittwe and Maungdaw on Monday.

It added that security forces had to intervene as communal tensions erupted Monday and Tuesday in several parts of Sittwe. An AP journalist saw the corpses of four people killed in the city, though it is not clear they were accounted for in the death toll reported by television.

On Tuesday in Sittwe, police fired live rounds into the air to disperse Rohingyas who could be seen burning homes in one neighborhood. Hordes of people ran to escape the chaos.

“Smoke is billowing from many directions, and we are scared,” said Ma Thein, an ethnic Arakan resident in Sittwe, where dark smoke from numerous fires covered the skyline into the late afternoon. “The government should send in more security forces to protect both communities.”

Truckloads of security forces have been deployed in Sittwe, and much of the port city was reported calm, including its main road. But homes were burning in three or four districts that have yet to be pacified.

In one, police fired skyward to separate hundreds-strong mobs wielding sticks and stones; in another, soldiers helped move 1,000 Muslims by trucks to safer areas.

Ma Thein said that some people were running short of food and water, with banks, schools and markets closed. Some small shops opened early Tuesday to sell fish and vegetables early in the morning to residents who braved the tense streets.

Neighboring Bangladesh has turned back about 1,500 Rohingyas trying to escape by boat in recent days, according to officials there. “We are keeping our eyes open so that nobody can enter Bangladesh illegally,” police official Jahangir Alam said.

The unrest in Burma was triggered by the rape and murder last month of a Buddhist girl, allegedly by three Muslims, and the June 3 lynching of 10 Muslims in apparent retaliation.

Burma’s government regards the Rohingyas as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and has rendered them stateless by denying them citizenship. Although some are recent settlers, many have lived in Burma for generations and rights groups say they suffer severe discrimination.

The United Nations’ refugee agency estimates 800,000 Rohingya live in Burma’s mountainous Arakan State. Thousands attempt to flee every year to Bangladesh, Malaysia and elsewhere.

The conflict poses one the biggest tests yet for Burma’s new government and how it handles the unrest will draw close scrutiny from Western powers, which have praised Thein Sein’s administration and rewarded it by easing years of harsh economic sanctions.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to “take all necessary steps” to protect at-risk communities and questioned the decision to call a state of emergency, which allows the military to take over administrative functions in the area.

“Given the Burmese army’s brutal record of abuses … putting the military in charge of law enforcement could make matters worse,” said Elaine Pearson, the New York-based group’s deputy Asia director.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged a halt to the violence and a transparent investigation.

State-run newspapers reported that 4,100 people who lost homes had taken refuge in Buddhist monasteries, schools and in a police headquarters the towns of Maungdaw and nearby Buthidaung.

Thousands more were reportedly displaced in Sittwe itself, according to an Arakanese political party. The Arakan Nationalities Development Party is one of the major parties associated with the country’s ethnic minorities, and holds several dozen seats in the 664-member parliament.

Dear Readers:The Irrawaddywelcomes your opinions and views on the issue in Arakan State, irrespective of your race, religion or bias. However, we cannot publish and will not tolerate those who use offensive language or racial insults, or those who try to spread propaganda or who incite violence.Please use this forum respectfully.

The Irrawaddy Team

3 Responses to Death Toll Passes 20 in Burma’s Violence

  1. The racial problems are everywhere, and in any times throughout
    human history. If all of us the planet over respect each other and believe in human rights, and are able to see as many different ways as there are – we should get to the points where the problems would be minimized.

    No one of us designed and built the planet, and no one of us has created resources vital for our life on this planet.
    We human, like any other animals, would go and settle in any place where they could survive, of course we should make least problems to our society and nature.

    Basically, from the human-centered view, the resources and lands of the earth belong to all human (fairly equally) to use wisely and for long term. When we have unbarable hardship in one place we will move to another better place. That is the right of all of us. When there are too many consumers than available resources in a place, peoples will spread out to other places. That is our right.

    Finally, especially at this time of so-called high technology and highly connected civilization (if that is true!), the human society should now be closer to equilibrium state of distributing throughout most of the habitable places of the world in the ways that best guarantee sustainability. Again, yes, the population increase, climate change, etc. are things to consider – but not treated here with special attention.

    However look at (please do not look only at one place, only at one or two century of time) what have been happening. Countries and territories have been created. Free flow of human (right to travel, right to enter and leave a country) does not exist in this era even though some peoples talk loudest about freedom and democracy. Protectionism is one of the most important things for each and every country.

    Countries with higher technological, economical and military powers have been the most protective of themselves. They have become the owners of right to use the policy of “I am right – you are wrong”, “Follow my way or get eliminated”, “I can do but you can’t”, and so on. They have powers to “punish” other weak countries if they see differences.

    Compare which is more difficult
    * a Myanmar national to get the right to enter a western European or north American country, or
    * a european or north american to get the right to enter Myanmar?

    Look again at one closely related example. If you are highly skilled then you have more chance to enter and settle in a rich, developed country. But if you are un-skilled person then your chance to enter and settle in a developed country is next to zero.

    Peoples talk beautiful words, use advantage of fluency in language of communication, knowledge and power, etc. to win over others and to protect themselves and their countries.

    We must try geadually to detach ourselves from everything “us” or “yours” as much as possible and be open to all (really “all” including all those that are unseen, those that will come later, those that have been here/there but no one has noticed or peoples try to hide) views.

    We are one of the worse kinds of parasite species. We are about to reach the tipping point sooner or later (but not never) at which we all will finally understand that we are in fact self-destructive – but too late at that point. It is time to look yourselves and your place, all of you, and understand that there is no such “you”, “yours”, “I”, or “mine”.

    Let’s share the responsibility. Stop fighting each other.
    Stop blaming others. All knowledge, all sciences, arts and good technologies, all land, water, food, and the world be open to all of us – if not quickly then gradually and constantly.
    We will talk not to make conflict but to find the solution with the whole world in our collective hands and vision.

    Wherever there are more land, more food to be found, more other resources available – that is the place the peoples lacking these basic needs should be allowed to go. Wherever there are lack of place, lack of food and resources, with the population more than it can support – that country should have the right to get help.

    Our education system must create the good citizens of the world – not the peoples who will stubbornly protect “theirs” and kill the rights of “others”. Our books, our histories, stories, articles, news, songs, plays, all our media must be written without bias, without emotions, etc. and by the citizens of the world from the truely global education.

  2. irrawaddy should allow all the comments including anti rakhayine. For irrawaddy the burmese are getting a bad press outside when hateful anti muslim comment are allowed. sto/delete anti muslim comments for your own sake. you will not be curryfavoring your european masters by publising anti muslim comments. so i suggest that you STOP and play neutral.

    here is the link:

  3. Doesn’t matter where the Rohingyas come from. The government of Myanmar must not overlook and show their brutality with the project to free Myanmar of a human race. We need to know the role of Aung San Suu Kyi. There will be no freedom, no liberation in the Myanmar state, until the state leaders feel that they must ensure peace for all people with diversity in ethnicity, religion, language, and culture…

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