News / Asia

Violence Forces Burmese Muslims Out of Kyaukphyu

Daniel Schearf
During Burma's communal violence in Rakhine state in October, an entire Muslim neighborhood burned to the ground in Kyauk Phyu, a coastal town on Ramree island. A month later, residents still have not returned. 

Little is left of this once vibrant Muslim fishing village.
 
A month after fires leveled the community, those who once lived here are now part of the more than 100,000 displaced in Rakhine state still too afraid to return home.
 
As scavengers from a neighboring village pick through the rubble, Nu Nu Khin repeats the widespread view among Buddhists here: the Muslims, she says, did this themselves.
 
"Because of religious tensions between Rakhines and Muslims, they attacked and set fire to the whole village," she said. "They set fire to their own houses and mosques in order to burn down Rakhine houses."
 
Others here say Muslims accidentally set fire to their own homes while trying to attack their neighbors.
 
Or they burned their own houses for international sympathy and in hopes they would get new ones from aid groups.
 
That view is repeated by the spokesman for Rakhine State Win Myaing.
 
"They set fire to their own houses," he said. "Rakhine houses were also burned.  And then they ran away to refugee camps.  I could see the evidence that they still had their cooking utensils and belongings the next day after the fire."
 
In the camps around Rakhine’s main city, Sittwe, where many Kaman Muslims fled, there is a different view:  Muslims were attacked by Rakhine Buddhists backed by soldiers.
 
Nwe Ni Zin Myint, 16,  says her family lost everything in the fire and all they have now was donated.  
 
"On that day, soldiers were in the front line," she said.  "A group of Rakhine villagers were at the back of them.  Soldiers pointed their guns toward us and shouted not to move.  When Muslims moved forward, soldiers shot them down."  
 
That allegation against security forces is not shared by Muslims from other Kyaukphyu neighborhoods such as Linn Ei Ei Aung. She says soldiers in fact saved her from Rakhine mobs.
 
"They came and searched for us to kill us, so we ran away," she said. "They surrounded us with a big group.  Soldiers protected us from them and brought us here."
 
While Burmese authorities try to piece together the varying accounts of what happened here, Muslim residents are being protected by soldiers in these temporary camps.
 
Even those whose homes were not burned are here for their safety.
 
Authorities say they are not sure when these people will be able to return home.

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