News / Asia

Religious Violence Spreads in Burma

Muslims people remove debris from a damaged mosque following fresh anti-Muslim violence broke out in Okkan, 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Rangoon, Burma, May 1, 2013.
Muslims people remove debris from a damaged mosque following fresh anti-Muslim violence broke out in Okkan, 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Rangoon, Burma, May 1, 2013.
VOA News
Sectarian violence that has spread across Burma reached several villages north of Rangoon this week,  when two people died in rioting that destroyed more than 100 homes, shops and mosques. Locals say the fighting in Okkan began when a young Muslim woman on a bicycle collided with an 11 year-old novice monk, breaking his alms bowl. Soon after, villagers from surrounding areas began destroying Muslim-owned property.

The rioting in Okkan shows that relatively minor incidents between Muslims and Buddhists can lead to widespread violence.

One of the buildings destroyed during the initial violence on Tuesday was an Islamic school. Lachman, a teacher there, was hiding in the compound as villagers armed with farming tools entered and ransacked it.

"We heard about what happened in Meikhtila, so we didn't fight back," he explained. "Our religious leader warned us not to fight back against people who are destroying your property, just run and save your lives."

Last month fighting in Meikhtila drove more than 10,000 Muslims from their homes into guarded camps that they say they are not allowed to leave. Authorities claim the camps are for their own protection.

The outbreak of violence in Meikhtila started when a dispute at a Muslim-owned gold shop turned violent. As fighting erupted, a monk who was riding on the back of a motorcycle taxi was killed.

Now seven Muslim men are on trial for his death.

The motorbike's driver took monastic vows two days after violence and testified in court as an eyewitness. Ashin Nanthiya is his devotional name.

He said as they drove into town, they saw Muslims armed with sticks threatening them, and as they drove through town, a man was beating the monk on the back of the bike. Finally, a crowd gathered around them, and four Muslims doused the monk in petrol and burned him alive after beating him.

Ashin Nanthiya believes the men on trial should be sentenced to death, and said it would be better if there were no Muslims living in Meikhtila.

One of the suspects, Nyi Nyi Naing, accused of beating the monk with a sword, is just 15 years old. Last week in court he withdrew a confession he said was extracted from him under duress. His wife, Zinmar Win, has been living in a camp for displaced people since her home burned down in the riots. She says she has struggled to be able to see him.

"I don't know whether my husband committed the crime or not, but I haven't been able to see him and I don't know whether he is guilty or not, so I've come to the court to try to see him," she said.

The seven suspects are charged with murder and grievous hurt, and will likely face the death penalty. Three Muslims from the gold shop incident were sentenced to 14 years for theft earlier this month, and the court told reporters the hefty sentence was due to the riots that followed.

Defense lawyer Thein Than Oo is representing some of the seven accused of killing the monk. He said four suspects still at large in the case are the real killers. He added that some of his clients were not even at the scene of the killing and were arrested for having similar names or for being related to the accused.

"I think they all are Muslims, and their physical appearance is similar. Even the eyewitnesses cannot differentiate one from the other. Who is Myo Win, Myo Tun Nyunt, or Myo Nyunt, the three brothers, they can't differentiate them clearly," said the lawyer.

The neighborhoods surrounding the court in Meikhtila still bear signs of a deadly riot. Locals say among the 40 dead are children from a nearby Islamic school.

The riots follow a pattern of violence similar to the conflict that broke out last year in Burma's northwestern Arakan state, where communities once had an even ratio between Buddhists and Muslims. Now, many of the Muslims have been displaced.

New York-based Human Rights Watch recently published a report saying the violence and impunity of the Buddhist attackers has amounted to ethnic cleansing. Phil Robertson is the Asia deputy director.

"And this seems to be a general trend within today's Burma. That violence takes place, the police stand around, they don't take action to stop it. Eventually after a period of time the army steps in and then no one is held accountable. It's the problem we see in Arakan state, it's also the problem we see in central Burma where there was also violence in March," Robertson said.

Amid the fighting, there are also worrying signs of broader anti-Muslim sentiment in areas of the country yet to experience outbreaks of violence. The so-called 969 movement started by Buddhist monks insists it is peaceful, but the group is encouraging Buddhists to avoid patronizing Muslim businesses or interacting with Muslim people.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs