News / Asia

    Muslims Vanish as Buddhist Attacks Approach Burma's Biggest City

    Destroyed furniture and belongings are seen in a market in Sit Kwin, Burma, March 29, 2013.
    Destroyed furniture and belongings are seen in a market in Sit Kwin, Burma, March 29, 2013.
    Reuters
    The Muslims of Sit Kwin were always a small group who numbered no more than 100 of the village's 2,000 people. But as sectarian violence led by Buddhist mobs spreads across central Burma, they and many other Muslims are disappearing.
        
    Their homes, shops and mosques destroyed, some end up in refugee camps or hide in the homes of friends or relatives. Dozens have been killed.

    "We don't know where they are,'' says Aung Ko Myint, 24, a taxi driver in Sit Kwin, a farming village where on Friday Buddhists ransacked a store owned by the town's last remaining Muslim. "He escaped this morning just before the mob got here.''
        
    Since 42 people were killed in violence that erupted in Meikhtila town on March 20, unrest led by hardline Buddhists has spread to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Burma, with the latest incidents only about a two-hour drive from the commercial capital, Rangoon.
        
    The crowds are fired up by anti-Muslim rhetoric spread over the Internet and by word of mouth from monks preaching a movement known as "969.'' The three numbers refer to various attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood. But it has come to represent a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism which urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim-run shops and services.

    Burma is predominantly Buddhist but about 5 percent of its 60 million people are Muslims. There are large Muslim communities in Rangoon, Mandalay and towns across Burma's heartland where the religions have co-existed for generations.
        
    But as violence spreads from village to village, the unleashing of ethnic hatred, suppressed during 49 years of military rule that ended in March 2011, is challenging the reformist government of one of Asia's most ethnically diverse countries.
        
    Dusk-to-dawn curfews are in effect in many areas of Bago, the region where Sit Kwin lies, while four townships in central Burma are under a state of emergency imposed last week.

    "I will not hesitate to use force as a last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of the general public,'' President Thein Sein said in a nationally televised speech on Thursday, warning "political opportunists and religious extremists'' against instigating further violence.
        
    The unrest has made almost 13,000 people homeless, according to the United Nations. State-run media reports 68 people have been arrested.

    • A crowd in Meikhitla, Burma is looting merchandise from a shop, March 22, 2013. The shop owner is pleading for the crowd to not set fire to his store, telling them instead to take whatever they want. 
    • Muslims carry their belongings as they arrive at a stadium that offers them a safe haven amid riots in Meikhtila March 22, 2013.
    • People ride their mopeds past the remains of two persons killed in clashes in Meikhtila March 22, 2013. 
    • Policemen are deployed to provide security amid riots in Meikhtila March 22, 2013. 
    • Firemen attempt to extinguish fires during riots in Meikhtila March 22, 2013. 
    • Muslims emerge from their homes after a senior Buddhist monk and police arrived to protect them amid riots in Meikhtila March 22, 2013.

    Rumors

    The trouble in Sit Kwin began four days ago when people riding 30 motorbikes drove through town urging villagers to expel Muslim residents, said witnesses. They then trashed a mosque and a row of Muslim shops and houses.

    "They came with anger that was born from rumorrs,'' said one man who declined to be identified.
        
    Further south, police in Letpadan have stepped up patrols in the farming village of 22,000 people about 160 km (100 miles) from Rangoon.

    Three monks led a 30-strong group towards a mosque on Friday. Police dispersed the crowd, many of whom carried knives and staves, and briefly detained two people. They were later released at the request of township officials, police said.

    "I won't let it happen again,'' said police commander Phone Myint. "The president yesterday gave the police authority to control the situation.''
        
    The abbot who led the protest, Khamainda, said he took to the streets after hearing rumors passed by other monks by telephone, about violence between Buddhists and Muslims in other towns. He said he wanted revenge against Muslims for the destruction by the Taliban of Buddhist statues in Bamiyan province in Afghanistan in 2001.

    "There is no problem with the way they live. But they are the minority and we are the majority. And when the minority insults our religion we get concerned,'' he told Reuters. "We will come out again if we get a chance.''
        
    Letpadan villagers fear the tension will explode. "I'm sure they will come back and destroy the mosque,'' says Aung San Kyaw, 35, a Muslim. "We've never experienced anything like this.''
        
    Across the street, Hla Tan, a 67-year-old Buddhist, shares the fear. "We have lived peacefully for years. Nothing can happen between us unless outsiders come. But if they come, I know we can't stop them,'' he said.

    North of Sit Kwin, the farming town of Minhla endured about three hours of violence on both Wednesday and Thursday.
        
    About 300 people, many from the nearby village of Ye Kyaw, gathered on Wednesday afternoon. The crowd swelled to about 800 as townsfolk joined, a Minhla policeman told Reuters. They then destroyed three mosques and 17 shops and houses, he said. No Buddhist monks were involved, said witnesses.
        
    "Very nervous"
        
    The mob carried sticks, metal pipes and hammers, said Hla Soe, 60, a Buddhist who runs an electrical repair shop in Minhla. "No one could stop them,'' he said.
        
    About 200 soldiers and police eventually intervened to restore a fragile peace. "I'm very nervous that it will happen again,'' he said.
        
    About 500 of Minhla's township's 100,000 people are Muslims, said the police officer, who estimated two-thirds of those Muslims had fled.
        
    However, Tun Tun is staying. "I have no choice,'' says the 26-year-old, whose tea shop was destroyed and looted by Buddhists, one armed with a chainsaw.
        
    He plans to rebuild his shop, whose daily income of 10,000 kyat ($11) supports an extended family of 12. On the wall of his ransacked kitchen is a portrait of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He did not believe she could do anything to help.
        
    Tun Tun traced the rising communal tension in Minhla to speeches given on February 26 and 27 by a celebrated monk visiting from Mon State, to the east of Rangoon. He spoke to a crowd of 2,000 about the "969 movement'', said Win Myint, 59, who runs a Buddhist community center which hosted the monk.
        
    After the 969 talks, Muslims were jeered and fewer Buddhists frequented his tea shop, said Tun Tun. Stickers bearing pastel hues overlaid with the numerals 969 appeared on non-Muslim street stalls across Minhla.

    President Thein Sein's ambitious reform program has won praise, but his government has also been criticized for failing to stem violence last year in Rakhine State in western Burma, where officials say 110 people were killed and 120,000 were left homeless, most of them Rohingya Muslims.
        
    The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Burma said on Thursday he had received reports of "state involvement'' in the recent violence at Meikhtila.
        
    Soldiers and police sometimes stood by "while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well-organized ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs'', said the rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana. "This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the state or implicit collusion and support for such actions.''
        
    Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and deputy minister of information, called those accusations "groundless.'' "In fact, the military and the government could not be concerned more about this situation,'' he said in a Facebook post.

    Late on Friday, three monks were preparing to give another "969'' speech in Ok Kan, a town 113 km (70 miles) from Rangoon.

    You May Like

    UN Observes International Day of Peacekeepers

    The U.N. honors 3,400 peacekeepers killed since first mission in 1948

    Video Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora