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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid