News / Asia

Fresh Burma Clashes Signal Growing Muslim Desperation

Burmese Rohingya men, who were shot by police during a riot on Friday, rest in Dapaing district clinic, outside of Sittwe, August 11, 2013.
Burmese Rohingya men, who were shot by police during a riot on Friday, rest in Dapaing district clinic, outside of Sittwe, August 11, 2013.
Reuters
Attempts to bring stability to Burma’s strategic northwest Rakhine State could be unraveling after police opened fire on Rohingya Muslims for the third time in two months, reviving tensions in a region beset by religious violence last year.
 
Villages outside the state capital Sittwe remain volatile after a dispute over custody of a dead Rohingya quickly escalated into a day of clashes on Friday in which police raked Rohingya crowds with gunfire, according to witnesses.
 
The violence underscores the growing Rohingya desperation in the face of an increasingly unsparing police response. At least two people were killed and more than a dozen injured, locals said.
 
The renewed tensions come despite government efforts to bring calm to Rakhine State, after two eruptions of communal violence with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists last year killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly Rohingya.
 
The battered corpse of the fisherman washed ashore at Ohntawgyi village after Friday morning prayers, triggering a day of clashes in which police raked crowds of Rohingya with gunfire.
 
A military intelligence source in Sittwe Burma newspaper said only three people had suffered “minor injuries”.
 
Activists blamed the clashes on restrictive measures imposed after last year's violence in the Buddhist-majority country.
 
Apartheid-like policies have segregated Buddhists from Muslims, many of whom fester in primitive camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) with little hope of resettlement.
 
A Reuters photographer and video journalist who visited the area said the situation remained tense as Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, arrived in Sittwe on Monday.
 
The clashes heap pressure on President Thein Sein as he struggles to contain nationwide religious violence since taking power in March 2011 after nearly 50 years of military dictatorship.
 
Strategic region
 
Rakhine State is one of Burma's poorest regions, but in the reform era it is emerging as one of its most strategic.
 
In Sittwe's harbor, India is funding a $214 million port, river and road network that will carve a trade route into India's landlocked northeast. From Kyaukphyu, a city 105 km (65 miles) southeast of Sittwe, gas and oil pipelines stretch to China's energy-hungry northwest. Both projects capitalize on Myanmar's growing importance at Asia's crossroads.
 
“Rumors of extensive mineral wealth in Rakhine State would add or perhaps are now adding fuel to the existing ethnic tensions,” said the Harvard Ash Center in a July 2013 report.
 
Aung Win, a well-known Rohingya activist who visited the troubled area on Sunday, blamed the unrest on deteriorating relations between the displaced Rohingya and police.
 
Rohingya blamed the police for beatings, extortion and other “inhuman” treatment, he said. “People have no trust in the police anymore,” he said. “They want the police out of their areas and the military there instead.”
 
The IDPs also demand the release of Rohingya leaders detained since late April after violent protests at a camp near Sittwe over a government resettlement plan.
 
The plan required the stateless Rohingya to identify themselves as “Bengali”, a term Rohingya reject. The government says they are Muslim migrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Many Rohingya say their families have lived in Rakhine for generations.
 
"Growing desperation"

As tempers rose on Friday, Rohingya villagers and IDPs burned down a police outpost in Ohntawgyi and erected a nearby roadblock, witnesses said. Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and live rounds. The IDPs fought with sticks and catapults.
 
Chris Lewa of the Rohingya advocacy group Arakan Project sees the latest violence as an attempt to resist oppressive measures common in northern Rakhine State, a Rohingya-majority region of three townships bordering Bangladesh.
 
In two townships, Buthidaung and Maungdaw, the state government recently announced the enforcement of a two-child limit on Rohingya families, one of several measures that the United Nations has called a violation of human rights.
 
The violence near Sittwe follows two other recent instants of fatal police gunfire in Rakhine.
 
On June 4, three Rohingya women were shot dead by police in Mrauk-U township, said U.N. envoy Ojea Quintana who arrived in Myanmar on Sunday. In June, he called it “the latest shocking example of how law enforcement officials operate with complete impunity” in Rakhine.
 
Then, on June 27, two IDPs were killed and six wounded when security forces opened fire on a crowd outside a military post in Pauktaw township, according to the UNHCR.
 
Rakhine State government spokesman Win Myaing blamed the Rohingya for Friday's violence, which he said was timed to coincide with the U.N. envoy's visit.
 
“They want to show to the international community the Rakhine State government is neglecting them,” he told Reuters.
 
Ojea Quintina was met in Sittwe by Rakhine Buddhist protesters wearing T-shirts reading “Get Out” and carrying signs labeling him a “Bengali Lobbyist”.

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs