News from Myanmar on Rohingya Muslims: Burma's leader admits deadly attacks on Muslims
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Burma's leader admits deadly attacks on Muslims
Satellite images show huge swath of coastal town destroyed in a wave of violence which has left dozens dead
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 27 October 2012 15.48 BST
Burma's president has admitted an unprecedented wave of ethnic violence has targeted his country's Rohingya Muslim population, destroying whole villages and large parts of towns.
Thein Sein's acknowledgement follows the release of satellite images showing the severe scale of the destruction in one coastal town, where most – if not all – of the Muslim population appears to have been displaced and their homes destroyed.
The pictures, acquired by Human Rights Watchshow destruction to the coastal town of Kyaukpyu in the country's west. They reveal an area of destruction 35 acres in size in which some 811 buildings and boats have been destroyed.
The images confirm reports of an orgy of destruction in the town which occurred in a 24-hour period in the middle of last week after violence in the province broke out again on 21 October.
The attacks in Arakan province in the country's west – also known as Rakhine – appears to have been part of a wave of communal violence pitting Arakan Buddhists against Muslims that has hit five separate towns and displaced thousands of people.
"There have been incidents of whole villages and parts of the towns being burned down in Arakan state," Thein Sein's spokesman said.
A government spokesman put the death toll up until Friday at 112. But within hours state media revised it to 67 killed from 21-25 October, with 95 wounded and nearly 3,000 houses destroyed.
The president's comments followed a warning from the office of the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that ethnic violence was endangering political progress in Burma.
"The vigilante attacks, targeted threats and extremist rhetoric must be stopped. If this is not done … the reform and opening-up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardised," the statement said.
The Burmese government is struggling to contain ethnic and religious tensions suppressed during nearly half a century of military rule that ended last year.
Inter-ethnic violence broke out earlier this year, triggered by the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men.
Releasing the satellite images, Human Rights Watch said it had identified 633 buildings and 178 houseboats and floating barges which were destroyed in an area occupied predominantly by Rohingya.
A committee of MPs led by the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi called on Friday for security reinforcements and swift legal action against those behind the killings and destruction.
According to Reuters, dozens of boats full of Rohingyas with no food or water fled Kyaukpyu, an industrial zone important to China, and other recent hotspots and were seeking access on Friday to overcrowded refugee camps around the state capital, Sittwe.
Some 3,000 Rohingya were reported to have been blocked from reaching Sittwe by government forces and landed on a nearby island.
"These latest incidents between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhists demonstrate how urgent it is that the authorities intervene to protect everyone, and break the cycle of discrimination and violence," Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific deputy director, Isabelle Arradon, said.
The latest violence erupted as a Burmese website in Norway – the Democratic Voice of Burma – reported it had acquired a document by a group calling itself the All-Arakanese Monks' Solidarity Conference. calling for all Rohingya to be expelled from the country.
"Burma's government urgently needs to provide security for the Rohingya in Arakan state, who are under vicious attack," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Unless the authorities also start addressing the root causes of the violence, it is only likely to get worse."
Human Rights Watch fears the death toll is far higher, based on allegations from witnesses fleeing scenes of carnage and the government's well-documented history of underestimating figures that might lead to criticism of the state.
The Rohingya are officially stateless. Buddhist-majority Burma's government regards the estimated 800,000 of them in the country as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and not as one of the country's 135 official ethnic groups, and denies them citizenship.
But many of those expelled from Kyaukpyu are not Rohingya but Muslims from the officially recognised Kaman minority, said Chris Lewa, director of the Rohingya advocacy group, Arakan Project.
"It's not just anti-Rohingya violence anymore, it's anti-Muslim," she said.
It was unclear what set off the latest arson and killing on Sunday.
Burma's junta admits deadly attacks on Muslims
Satellite images show huge swath of coastal town destroyed in a wave of violence that has left dozens dead
The Observer, Sunday 28 October 2012
Burma's president, Thein Sein, has admitted his country's Rohingya Muslim population has been subjected to an unprecedented wave of ethnic violence. Whole villages and large sections of towns have been destroyed.
Thein Sein's admission follows release of shocking satellite images showing the scale of the destruction in one coastal town, where most – if not all – of the Muslim population appears to have been displaced and their homes wrecked.
The pictures, acquired by Human Rights Watch, show destruction to the town of Kyaukpyu on the country's west coast. They reveal 14.4 hectares (35 acres) of destruction, in which some 811 buildings and houseboats have been destroyed.
The images confirm reports of massive violence in the town over 24 hours around 24 October, three days after the first wave of attacks. The incidents in Arakan province – also known as Rakhine – have displaced thousands of people in what appears to have been a wave of ethnic cleansing pitting Arakan Buddhists against Muslims. "There have been incidents of whole villages and parts of the towns being burned down," Thein Sein's spokesman said. A government official initially put the death toll at 112 but later revised it to 67.
Thein Sein's comments follow a warning from the office of UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon that ethnic violence was endangering political progress in Burma. The latest violence in Burma comes as the government is struggling to contain ethnic and religious tensions suppressed during nearly a half century of military rule that ended last year. Inter-ethnic violence broke out earlier this year, triggered by the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men.
Human Rights Watch said it had identified 633 buildings and 178 houseboats and floating barges destroyed, in an area occupied predominantly by Rohingyas. A committee of MPs led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi called on Friday for security reinforcements and swift legal action against those behind the killings and destruction.
According to Reuters, dozens of boats full of Rohingyas fled Kyaukpyu, an industrial zone important to China, and other recent areas of violence and were trying to reach overcrowded refugee camps around the state capital, Sittwe.
Some 3,000 Rohingyas were reported to have been blocked from reaching Sittwe by government forces and landed on a nearby island.
"Burma's government urgently needs to provide security for the Rohingya in Arakan, who are under vicious attack," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Unless the authorities also start addressing the root causes of the violence, it is only likely to get worse."
Human Rights Watch fears the death toll may be far higher than has been given so far. Its estimates are based on allegations from witnesses fleeing scenes of carnage and the government's history of underestimating figures.
Rohingyas are officially stateless. The government, controlled by Buddhists, regards the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in the country as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and not as one of the country's 135 official ethnic groups, and denies them citizenship. But many of those expelled from Kyaukpyu are not Rohingya but Muslims from the officially recognised Kaman minority, said Chris Lewa, director of the Rohingya advocacy group, Arakan Project. "It's not just anti-Rohingya violence any more, it's anti-Muslim," Lewa said.
Burma attacks leave earth scorched
Country's new civilian government faces first major test as spiralling ethnic violence brings the threat of martial law
ANDREW BUNCOMBE SUNDAY 28 OCTOBER 2012
Human rights campaigners have called on the authorities in Burma to step in and protect civilians after satellite imagery showed the extent of destruction as a wave of fresh ethnic violence has swept the west of the country. More than 100 people have been killed in “vicious” attacks that started a week ago and activists believe the true death toll is likely considerably higher.
Images released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) appear to show widespread arson and destruction in a predominantly Muslim area of the coastal town of Kyauk Pyu. The organisation said that by comparing images taken on October 25 with those captured on March 9 this year, it had identified 811 houses and other structures that had been destroyed and burned. Local reports said the arson attacks were conducted on Wednesday, just a day before the images were taken.
"The Rohingya Muslim population is being driven out of neighbourhoods in various parts of [Rakhine] state," Matthew Smith of HRW told The Independent on Sunday, from Malaysia. "From what we can tell, the Rohingya are fleeing overland, or by sea, to the town of Sittwe. We are getting reports of people being stranded at sea and unable to make landfall."
The Rohingya Muslims of western Burma have long faced violence and persecution. Many in Burma consider them "foreigners" and they have very few rights. President Thein Sein has continued the policy of previous rulers by seeking to drive them out. More than 800,000 Rohingya live in wretched conditions in neighbouring Bangladesh.
This summer, at least 90 people died and 75,000 more were forced into refugee camps after clashes between the Buddhist and Rohingya in Rakhine state, sparked by the alleged rape of a Buddhist woman by Muslim men.
Violence has flared again. This time it is unclear what was the precise spark, but activists say that this time, unlike in the summer, the violence being directed at the Rohingya is largely one-way. In what may be an indication of the extent to which the Muslim population is being targeted, some reports from the region said the Burmese military, which had previously been involved in targeting the Rohingya, had this week been acting to protect them.
This week's violence focussed on at least five townships, according to HRW - Minbya, Mrak-U, Myebon, Rathedaung, and Kyauk Pyu. This was the first time violence had reached Kyauk Pyu and most of the other parts of the state.
The crisis is a major crisis for Thein Sein's nominally-civilian government and for the opposition, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. She and other members of the National League for Democracy have been criticised by some for failing to speak out more strongly against what has happened.
Rohingya organisations outside of the country say what is taking place is nothing less than ethnic cleansing. The Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) has compiled what is says is a list of killings and atrocities, based on eye witnesses. Among them is an incident said to have taken place on Thursday when a boat containing around 120 people from the Rohingya and Kaman Muslim communities tried to flee Kyauk Pyu. It is claimed all the men were killed on the spot and the women raped.
"We have heard that police and security forces provided petrol to the [Buddhist Rakhine]," said the group's president chairman, Tun Khin.
"People talk about their being clashes. But these are not equal sides fighting, it's a state-sponsored ethnic cleansing plan."
Reports suggested there were no new clashes yesterday, a day a day after Burma's home minister said the government was prepared to declare martial law and emergency rule in the region if violence escalated. A committee of parliamentarians, including Ms Suu Kyi, on Friday called for for security reinforcements and swift legal action against those behind fighting.
But Reuters reported that many boatloads of Muslims were still struggling to reach refugee camps and sought safety on islands and in coastal villages. Dozens of rickety wooden vessels, packed with desperate people had reached landfall by last night after two days at sea, but nine boats were still unaccounted for, according to several Rohingya refugee sources.
Earlier this week, the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Burma's authorities "to take urgent and effective action to bring under control all cases of lawlessness". It added: "If this is not done, the fabric of social order could be irreparably damaged and the reform and opening up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardised."
Campaigners have also called on the authorities to act immediately to stop the bloodshed. "These latest incidents between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhists demonstrate how urgent it is that the authorities intervene to protect everyone, and break the cycle of discrimination and violence," said Isabelle Arradon of Amnesty International.
Myanmar violence displaces thousands
UN says more than 22,000 people have been displaced and houses razed in renewed fighting between Rohingya and Buddhists.
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2012 06:36
More than 22,000 people from mainly Muslim communities have been displaced by fresh unrest in western Myanmar that has killed dozens and seen whole neighbourhoods razed, the UN says.
"The latest figures we have is 22,587 people have been displaced and we have about 4,665 houses that have been destroyed... according to government estimates provided to the UN," Ashok Nigam, the UN chief in Yangon, told the
AFP news agency on Sunday.
He said 21,700 of those made homeless were Muslims.
Tensions between the Buddhist majority and the stateless Muslim Rohingya minority have been rife since deadly violence began in June. Tens of thousands people were living in camps around Sittwe, the state capital of Rakhine state, already before the latest flare-up. The total number of displaced is now estimated to be around 100,000.
Security forces have been deployed to the affected areas where violence erupted on October 21. More than 80 people have been killed in the last week, according to a government official, bringing the total toll since June to above 170.
In Minbya, one of the townships affected by the fighting, a senior police official told the AFP news agency that more than 4,000 people, mainly Muslims, had been made homeless after hundreds of properties in six villages were torched.
"Some victims are staying at their relatives' houses, some are in temporary relief camps, they are staying near those burnt areas," he said, adding that a heightened security presence had prevented further clashes.
"They are staying between Muslims and Rakhine people," he said.
He said the UN had already started mobilising to take food and shelter to displaced communities, "but we will quickly need more resources".
On Saturday, a human rights group expressed concern for the safety of thousands of Rohingya after revealing satellite images of a once-thriving coastal community reduced to ashes.
The images released by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) show "near total destruction" of a predominantly Rohingya part of Kyaukpyu, one of several areas in Rakhine where clashes have occurred.
More than 811 buildings and houseboats were razed in Kyaukpyu on October 24, forcing many Rohingya to flee north by sea towards Sittwe, said HRW.
"Burma's government urgently needs to provide security for the Rohingya in Arakan [Rakhine] State, who are under vicious attack," said Phil Robertson, the group's deputy Asia director.
State television said 2,818 houses were destroyed, many of them burnt down, from Sunday to Thursday.
It was unclear what set off the latest round of arson and killings.
In June, ethnic violence in Rakhine left at least 90 people dead and destroyed more than 3,000 homes after the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman that was blamed on Muslims.
'Obstacle to development'
The UN said Myanmar's fledgling democracy could be "irreparably damaged" by the clashes.
"The fabric of social order could be irreparably damaged and the reform and opening-up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardised," a spokesman for Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said on Friday.
"The widening mistrust between the communities is being exploited by militant and criminal elements to cause large-scale loss of human lives."
President Thein Sein's government has described the Rohingya problem as an obstacle to development on other fronts.
Sein took office last year following elections boycotted by the opposition National League for Democracy, and has instituted economic and political liberalisation after almost half a century of repressive military rule.
"As the international community is closely watching Myanmar's democratic transition, such unrest could tarnish the image of the country," a statement from Sein's office, published on Friday in the state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper, said.
"The army, police and authorities in co-operation with local people will try to restore peace and stability and will take legal action against any individual or organisation that is trying to instigate the unrest."
Larry Jagan, a freelance journalist who has covered Myanmar extensively, told Al Jazeera: "These attacks are much more worrying because they are [in] outlying areas that are inhabited by Burmese Muslims who are not Rohingya.
"The problem the government is facing at the moment of course is that the violence is in outlying areas and across the coast - not in the central municipal areas. They are having difficulties getting forces into those areas," he added.
"There have been reports that soldiers have been firing over the heads of Muslims and Buddhists and there have been one or two injuries. The government really needs to take initiative that shows they intend to have a political solution because this really has been a problem that has been continuing since independence," said Jagan.
Rohingya are officially stateless. Although many of them have lived in Myanmar for generations, they are widely denigrated as intruders who came from neighbouring Bangladesh to steal scarce land.
The UN estimates the Rohingya population in Myanmar at 800,000. But the government does not count them as one of the country's 135 ethnic groups, and so - like neighbouring Bangladesh - denies them citizenship.
Human rights groups say racism also plays a role. Many Rohingya, who speak a Bengali dialect and resemble Muslim Bangladeshis, have darker skin and are heavily discriminated against.
From Myanmar to Mecca
Jamal Elshayyal is a news producer with a focus on Arab politics and Western/Arab relations.
There are a set of rules and guidelines for those who perform the fifth pillar of Islam – the pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj as its called.
They include paying off any debts before embarking on the journey, abstaining from any sort of confrontation or argument, desisting from foul language, and wearing nothing more than two simple white cloths.
It is this that is arguably the most unifying aspect of Hajj. As millions of Muslims circuit the Kaaba, it is impossible to differentiate the rich from the poor, the educated from the illiterate, the prince from the pauper – each one of them is wearing the same type of cloth, each has shed their worldly belongings in submission to their lord.
In recognition that ultimately, when they stand before their lord, it is not their status in society, nor their bank balance or job title that matters. It is what is in their heart that is infinitely more meaningful.
But beneath these white garbs that unite the pilgrims, each has a story of their own. There are those who consider themselves fortunate to have found an open flight to get them to Mecca, and there are those who consider themselves lucky just to be alive.
Among the latter are pilgrims from Myanmar. Specifically from the province of Arakan, an area that has witnessed ethnic violence for decades.
Human rights groups say that the local Muslim population there has consistently come under attack by armed Buddhist groups, with government forces either assisting directly in these attacks, or indirectly by standing by as they took place.
Entire villages have been burnt to the ground, thousands have been expelled from their homes, and hundreds have been killed over the years.
The situation has got worse in recent months, with dozens of Rohingya Muslims being killed and several villages and townships burnt to ashes.
Thus it is no wonder that many Muslims from there consider themselves fortunate to be alive.
Imagine then how a Muslim from Rohingya, who survived the violence, escaped the conflict, and made it all the way to Islam's holiest site, feels?
I met up with one such person. Too scared to speak to me in front of his fellow countrymen, and even more petrified to be filmed, this pilgrim – who I will name Mohammad – narrated to me some of the most ghastly and horrific stories which he says took place in his village in Myanmar.
For him, the pilgrimage to Mecca means so much more than it does to those doing it in their bid to serve God.
For Mohammad, Hajj is the first time he has ever truly felt at peace. For him, Mecca is the only place he has felt safe.
On this pilgrimage, Mohammad found the true meaning of equality he tells me.
Up until now he only felt what it was like to be a second or third class Rohingyan Muslim in Myanmar, but here, in Mecca, he prays side by side with an Egyptian, who stands next to an Englishman, who kneels beside a German, who prostrates next to a South African, who holds his hands to the sky and prays for all humanity.
Buddhists in new clashes with Muslims
THURSDAY 25 OCTOBER 2012
A night-time curfew has been imposed in at least two towns in north-western Rakhine state after renewed unrest between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas.
More than 80 people were killed in the area in June. Those clashes were a setback for a quasi-civilian government that has won international plaudits for its political and economic reforms since President Thein Sein took office in March last year, bringing to an end almost 50 years of brutal military rule.
Official media said yesterday that two people had been killed and eight had been injured in the violence since Sunday, while more than 1,000 homes had been burned down. Unconfirmed reports from other sources put the death toll even higher.
Up to 800,000 Rohingyas live in abject conditions along Burma's border with Bangladesh.
Neither country recognises them as citizens, and the Bangladeshi authorities turned away boatloads of Rohingyas fleeing the violence in June. Reuters