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November 06, 2012

Unrest in Burma Clouds View of Government Reforms

by VOA News

After a second round of communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims broke out in Burma's Rakhine state last month, there are worries that the instability could spread. Observers say the conflict threatens the government's heralded political and economic reforms.

The United Nations says there are now 110,000 people who have been displaced by fighting in Rakhine state since violence first started in June.

Aid groups are still scrambling to treat the wounded and displaced but their workers say they continue to face intimidation and threats for aiding those in need.
 
United Nations authorities were granted access in late October to the affected areas to assess the situation. Ashok Nigam is the Resident Coordinator of the local U.N. mission.

"They were certainly very fearful and they were also very uncertain of what their future was, so we have tried to calm them down and immediate for these people is also the humanitarian assistance, but also the government wants to keep the two communities apart," said Nigam.
 
Thousands of Rohingya have now fled Burma by boat, with uncertain destinations. Some analysts say the government's inadequate response to the violence calls into question its commitment to reform, particularly in ethnic areas. 

"The ethnic minority areas are certainly lagging behind in terms of the effects of the reform effort and the most recent violence in Rakhine state is leapfrogging that situation to the fore it no longer allows the government to ignore or to put off legal reform in the ethnic minority areas," said human rights lawyer Ben Zawacki. 

In Rakhine’s burnt-out villages, tensions are still running high. Muslims across the country cancelled Eid celebrations last week. There are worries that the security forces deployed to protect the Rohingya are not sufficient, says Abu Taher, a Rohingya politician.

"In the whole country there is no security for the Muslim communities to celebrate Eid. That's why that celebration was suspended, because a lack of security," he said.

In the heart of one of Rangoon’s main Muslim neighborhoods, far from the violence in Rakhine state, there are few outwards signs of religious tensions.

But while daily prayers continue at the 150-year-old Bengali Sunni Jameh Mosque, there are still worries among Muslims who are not ethnic Rohingyas. They say they are still worried about religious tensions, and concerned they could be targeted by Buddhist monks who worship at the pagoda next door.