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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More