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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

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