Image: Burmese security forces patrol downtown Sittwe in early June. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
Three more townships in northern Arakan State imposed curfews on Wednesday following fresh clashes earlier this week between Buddhists and Muslims in the strife-torn region, where a total of nine townships are now under lockdown.
The curfews—in Kyauktaw, Minbya and Mrauk-Oo townships—are in response to a series of incidents in Kyauktaw on Aug. 5-6 that left property destroyed and an unspecified number of people dead.
“The curfews were ordered to prevent any further violence in the area after the clashes in Kyauktaw,” said Myo Thant, a member of a special media team set up by the state government in the wake of violence that first broke out in early June.
According to Thar Kyaw, a member of the state legislature, at least 300 homes owned by both ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims were destroyed by fire after riots broke out on Aug. 5 in five villages—Apauk Wa, Shwe Hlaing, Gut Pi Taung, Ywar Nyar and Taung Pauk.
The situation in the area is now “stable,” he told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.
Local residents in the affected townships said the curfew is from 7 pm to 5 am in Kyauktaw, and from 10 pm to 4 am in the other two townships.
“Township authorities have also ordered people to hand over any knives, slingshots and jinglees in their possession,” said Thar Kyaw, who is a resident of Minbya. Jinglees are sharpened bicycle spokes that are used as arrows, often with poison applied to their tips.
Residents of the three townships said that schools and shops are open as usual, but there is a heavy security presence in the streets. Around five or six policemen or soldiers have been assigned to guard each school and Rohingya village in the area, said residents.
In the predominantly Muslim townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, however, schools have been closed since the violence began in early June and markets are allowed to open only in the mornings. Sources in the area say that security has been tightened since yesterday amid fears of bomb attacks.
In Mrauk Oo, local resident Maung Than said the situation appears to be stable, despite a relatively minor confrontation on Wednesday between Arakanese and Rohingyas in a village about 6 km from the town.
Residents of Kyauktaw said that this week’s violence was much worse than the clashes in the area two months ago. At that time, several houses were burned down, but no casualties were reported.
This time, an unknown number of people were killed. “We’re still in the process of counting and identifying the dead,” said Myo Thant.
Maung Maung, a resident of Kyauktaw, said the renewed violence stemmed from two recent attacks on Arakanese-owned properties.
On Aug. 2, which marked the beginning of the Buddhist lent period, a group of Rohingyas allegedly destroyed a bus station in Kyauktaw, and on Sunday, a small rice mill in the village of Taung Pauk was allegedly burnt down and looted by a Rohingya mob.
A state-wide state of emergency was declared after the strife started in Maungdaw in June 8 and curfews have been in place in Sittwe, Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Kyaukphyu, Thandwe and Ramree townships since June 10.
The curfews are meant to prevent violence but will very likely only be enforced on the Rohingya. This will just add to the tension and anger within the Rohingya community. Also notice how the word “allegedly” is used often, it’s not a coincidence. A lot of issues are created to start tension between the people and then blamed on the Rohingya. It’s probable that it’s the government itself doing this, because the government/military is the main force that enforces the racism (against the Rohingya as well as other ethnic groups) and wants them out of the country because they don’t recognize them as citizens.
From the article in the Irrawaddy “Muslims in Burma – A Struggle to Live with Dignity and Respect”:
For Buddhists and Muslims who live and co-exist in Burma, the recent outbreak of sectarian violence in Arakan State is nothing new. The profound fear that many feel, however, is that this won’t be the last time that these two communities are torn apart by strife.
The lack of rational and informed debate on this issue at the national and local level can only fuel more tension and sow deep mistrust. Moreover, there are forces inside and outside Burma that want to exploit this explosive situation. These elements have their own political agendas, and stand to gain if they can further inflame the hatred and mutual misunderstandings we have witnessed in recent months.
It is worth remembering that in the early days of the current outbreak of hostilities in Burma’s westernmost state, the state media chose to use the word “kalar”—a derogatory term applied to foreigners, particularly those of South Asia descent—to refer to the Rohingya. Was this a deliberate attempt to stir up animosity toward them? Many suspect so.
If the aim really was to create ethnic enmity, it should come as no surprise. Burma’s rulers have a history of going on the offensive against defenseless groups, and this habit seems to die hard, even when the country is led by an ostensibly “civilian” government led, for the most part, by ex-generals.
The last time that the Rohingya were on the receiving end of such attacks was in December 1991, when Burma’s former junta, then known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), drove as many as 30,000 Rohingyas across the border into Bangladesh. Reports at the time even suggested that there were cross-border raids.
At that time, the SLORC was facing heavy international pressure due to its crackdown on students, activists and monks and was increasingly isolated. The National League for Democracy had won a landslide electoral victory that the generals refused to acknowledge, and the party’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The junta wanted a way to distract domestic attention from its failings, and found it by going after the Rohingya.
And to put it simply, they’re at it again. Creating tension between the people to distract from other issues there. It’s not to say that the issue in Rakhine and the oppression of the Rohingya isn’t serious, but this issue is currently being used for other political agendas. To be very fair though, the state media and government aren’t the only ones exploiting the oppression of Rohingya (enforced for) their own agenda. The foreign media’s also politicizing the issue as a religious one to further their own causes. (Note: it’s not a religious issue, and making it seem like one just makes things worse). The issues there are more complicated than either side- the Burmese media or the mainstream one- are making it seem.
And in the meantime, the Rohingya still get abused and forced to endure things they shouldn’t have to, like curfews that won’t help them because it’ll only add more tensions.