Myanmar sets curfew after new violence in northwest
Authorities in Myanmar imposed a night-time curfew in at least two towns in northwestern Rakhine state after renewed deadly unrest between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in an area where more than 80 people were killed in June.
The earlier violence was 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, ending almost 50 years of brutal military rule.
Official media said on Wednesday that two people had been killed and eight injured in the violence since Sunday, while 1,039 homes had been burned down. Unconfirmed reports from other sources put the death toll higher.
Up to 800,000 Rohingyas live in abject conditions along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh. Neither country recognises them as citizens and the Bangladeshi authorities turned away boatloads of Rohingyas fleeing the violence in June.
Most people in Myanmar regard them as illegal immigrants from South Asia. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who led the fight for democracy, has sidestepped questions on how to tackle the problem.
Hla Thein, spokesman for the Rakhine State government, told reporters curfews had been imposed in the townships of Minbya and Mrauk Oo from Monday. Some local sources reported reinforcement of armed police in these towns.
“However, I don’t think the situation has returned to normal in villages on the outskirts of Mrauk Oo,” retired school teacher Mya Thein told reporters by telephone.
Another source reported trouble in a town called Myay Bone.
“The local Rohingyas prepared boats for escape. Just before escape, they started setting fires. Then the Arakans (local Rakhine people) chased them down, seized one of the Rohingyas who had started a fire and also burnt the Rohingyas’ boats prepared for escape,” he said, quoting an uncle in the area.
“I heard the authorities had been able to control the situation in other towns but not Myay Bone yet.”
As with the previous bout of violence, it was unclear what had set off the arson and killing. In June, tension had been rising for some time after the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman in May that was blamed on Muslims.
Thein Sein’s government has negotiated ceasefires with most of the ethnic rebels that have fought for autonomy for half a century but has done nothing to address the Rohingya problem.
Suu Kyi, now a member of parliament, told reporters in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Tuesday that a general absence of law was to blame for the situation in Rakhine State.
“Of course I am worried about the situation there,” local media quoted her as saying. “Actually, this situation can be expected. As I often said, there must be the rule of law to prevent this sort of problem. It cannot be sorted out overnight.”
On October 15, the government decided against letting the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) open an office in Myanmar. That followed marches by opponents of the plan in several cities, led by Buddhist monks.
The OIC had wanted to open a liaison office in Rakhine and could have used it to help distribute US$50 million in aid promised to the Rohingyas by Saudi Arabia.