NAYPYIDAW — Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and women political activists have called for better law enforcement after communal violence in west Burma last week left five people dead and hundreds more homeless.
At a forum of women lawmakers in Naypyidaw last Friday, just a couple days after fighting died down near Thandwe in Arakan State, Suu Kyi echoed earlier statements on the need for rule of law.
“If you ask why violence has erupted in the country, I think it is because of fear—our people are insecure,” the 68-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate and lawmaker said. “We need to have rule of law for our society. Our people need to feel safe and secure through rule of law. This is the only way we can do it.”
Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims last week near Thandwe destroyed more than 100 homes, according to state media.
The fighting followed anti-Muslim riots earlier this year in several locations across Burma, as well as communal violence between both religious groups in other parts of Arakan State last year in June and October. The vast majority of victims last year were ethnic Rohingya Muslims, while the many victims in Thandwe last week were Kaman Muslims.
“Buddhism is not violence,” Suu Kyi said at the forum, organized by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) political foundation of Germany to promote women’s leadership. “We must have rule of law.”
Cheery Zahau, an ethnic Chin rights activist at the forum, said she agreed that violence had created a feeling of insecurity in the country.
“People are partaking in violence because they think there is no rule of law. If they know they can be punished, they won’t do that,” she said. “Communal violence in Burma is based on religion, but as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, Buddhism is not violence, although some people are using it as a tool.”
Kyi Phyu Shin, a central executive member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said it was important to consider the roots of violence.
“We have to consider who is responsible for the violence, to look back and see how the tensions were created,” she said.
She said women could offer counseling in conflict-torn areas to promote peace, but added that such measures would not be enough.
“The thing we need is rule of law,” she said.