News / Asia

Fears Grow of Spreading Instability in Burma Sectarian Violence

A woman displaced by the recent violence in Pauktaw sits by her sleeping child at Owntaw refugee camp for Muslims outside Sittwe, Burma, November 1, 2012.A woman displaced by the recent violence in Pauktaw sits by her sleeping child at Owntaw refugee camp for Muslims outside Sittwe, Burma, November 1, 2012.
x
A woman displaced by the recent violence in Pauktaw sits by her sleeping child at Owntaw refugee camp for Muslims outside Sittwe, Burma, November 1, 2012.
A woman displaced by the recent violence in Pauktaw sits by her sleeping child at Owntaw refugee camp for Muslims outside Sittwe, Burma, November 1, 2012.
Daniel Schearf
Burma's President Thein Sein says armed groups, some foreign, are behind deadly sectarian violence in western Rakhine state. Analysts have questioned the allegations, though, and say the root causes of tensions need to be addressed or instability could spread.

Burma's state media published a statement by Sein proclaiming evidence that armed groups in western Rakhine state instigated violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

The statement in the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said security forces have seized 180 firearms and evidence of weapons manufacturing. But there were few other details to back up the president’s claims of foreign and terrorist involvement in the violence that has killed at least 89 people and displaced thousands.

Policy issues abound

Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, said the vague language and the president’s reference to terrorism indicates authorities want to distract the public from policy failures.

"This is the latest excuse on the part of the Burmese military government basically to externalize its own responsibility by blaming or by attempting to join Washington's language or discourse of 'war on terror'," said Zarni.

It is not clear what started the latest violence on October 21, but it quickly spread. Official figures show more than 5,000 homes were destroyed and entire Muslim neighbors burned to the ground.

Internally displaced persons

Hundreds fled the remote areas by boat. Police in Bangladesh say at least 120 people, believed to be Rohingya, are missing after their boat capsized in the Bay of Bengal.

Official figures provided by the United Nation's refugee agency show 35,000 people were internally displaced, the vast majority Muslim, and 3,000 are still at sea.

President Thein Sein has changed his position on the Rakhine violence several times since fighting broke out in June. He first suggested all Rohingya should be deported. Then he told VOA’s Burmese service that the government would build schools for Rohingya children.

He also blamed local Buddhist extremists for increasing tensions. Now, he is saying foreign organizations are supporting armed groups in the conflict.

Religious tensions flare

Jim Della-Giacoma is Southeast Asia Project Director for the International Crisis Group. He said the threat to Burma's stability is more likely coming from tensions between communities rather than outsiders.

"Looking for scapegoats outside the country or pointing to a terrorist threat, which may or may not be there, is still not the most significant problem. The problem is containing this and stopping the violence from spreading across the country," he said.

Della-Giacoma said protests in Rangoon by Muslims and others in various cities by Buddhist monks have raised concerns the conflict could become religious.

Other Muslims, such as the ethnic Kaman, have gotten caught up in the violence. Reports of grenade attacks on two mosques in Karen state this week further raised the specter of spreading religious tensions. Earlier clashes in June were followed by revenge attacks in Bangladesh when Muslims attacked and burned Buddhist pagodas.  
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has warned that, if left unchecked, instability could further spread to neighboring countries.

Della-Giacoma agreed and cited flows of Rohingya to Malaysia, some seeking refuge, as well as Indonesian Muslims threatening retaliatory attacks against Buddhists.  

"It has already had a spillover effect. It is a regional problem whether the government of Myanmar [Burma] likes it or not. And, I think, but it is first and foremost an internal problem that requires some serious effort and moral leadership to overcome some of the... widely held attitudes that are driving it on the ground," he said.

Rakhine, Rohingya skirmishes

The Rohingya are a stateless people with few legal rights and number about 800,000 in Burma and 300,000 in Bangladesh.

Most people in Burma consider them illegal migrants from Bangladesh, despite many having lived there for generations.

Decades of tension between the Rakhine and Rohingya over scarce resources broke open in June with the rape and murder of a Rakhine girl, allegedly by Rohingya.

A Rakhine mob attacked and murdered a busload of Muslims, sparking retaliatory mob attacks that left 90 people dead and tens of thousands living in government-run camps.

The U.N. refugee agency says the camps are overcrowded, and they are scrambling to get adequate humanitarian supplies.

The United States and British Ambassadors to Burma on Thursday visited Rakhine state to assess the situation.

You May Like

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Works to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Smithsonian senior research botanist Vicki Funk says ultimate goal is 'trying to get one-half of the diversity of plant life on Earth at the genus level in two years' More

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: U Thant Zin from: Yangon
November 02, 2012 10:14 PM
Everybody know there are problems where ever they are all over the world. They will reap as they sow! If they like killing, they will be dying in violent death.
They are dying in violent death killing themselves each other all over the world such as Syria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and so on all over the world. Is it all right? Why? They should review themselves. Or they will be destroy by themselves. Is there human right of women? Is there freedom of faith?

by: Richard Ouko from: Nairobi
November 02, 2012 2:11 AM
Reading on this conflict makes me to wonder when did religion become a person. We hear Americans, French, Kenya etc going to resolve conflicts not as "religious" but nations. I suggest that the greatest and deliberate step for education that should be undertaken is to help people understand between what a person makes a choice for and who/ what they are. In this way, one would stand on his two feet and not on the sway. Richard from Nairobi

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs