SAGAING DIVISION, Myanmar — Like so many tea shops and bedrooms across Myanmar, Sandar’s village store is graced with a photo of Aung San Suu Kyi, or “Mother Suu,” a living icon of resistance to military tyranny.
But the laminated image, retouched to make political opposition leader Suu Kyi look doubly angelic, is no longer tacked above the 32-year-old shopkeeper’s wooden dining table. “I yanked it down last week,” she said. The poster has been banished to a warped, dusty shelf.
“Before, everyone here loved Mother Suu like the Buddha,” she said. “But no more.”
Photos and videos coming out of the central Burmese town of Meikhtila show rioting and attacks against Muslim-owned businesses, in the country’s worst communal violence since last year’s clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the eastern part of the country. The ungoing unrest has left at least 10 people dead, according to a member of parliament from Meikhtila District.
The source of the conflict remains murky. But both local police sources and Muslim activists agree that it all started with an argument between a Muslim gold-shop owner and Buddhist customers on Wednesday morning. From there, the stories diverge. A police source cited by Radio Free Asia says the shop owner broke an item belonging to the customers, leading to a brawl; Muslim activists, citing local sources, say the customers tried to sell the shop owner fake gold. Either way, the dispute quickly drew a crowd that attacked the goldsmith’s store as well as other Muslim-owned businesses.
A mob attacks Muslim-owned stores in Meikhtila on Wednesday. This video was relayed by Burmese Muslim activists living abroad. Rioting continued during the night and into Thursday, with plumes of smoke rising around the town; a curfew declared by the authorities was evidently ignored. Several mosques were reportedly torched.
Police say that at least two of the confirmed dead are Buddhists, one of them a monk. An AFP photographer who was able to visit the town Thursday said he saw at least three burned bodies and houses on fire. According to MP Win Thein, who hails from Meikhtila and belongs to the opposition National League for Democracy party, there are about 30,000 Muslims in the township, out of about 80,000 total residents.
Muslims represent about four percent of Burma’s population, according to the last census. A wave of clashes between Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya, a Muslim minority, in eastern Rakhine State last year left at least 200 dead and more than 100,000 homeless, with many Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh. Last month, a Buddhist mob attacked a Muslim school and Muslim-owned stores in a suburb of Rangoon.
Nay San Lwin is a Burmese Muslim activist living in exile in Germany. He contributes to the website Rohingya Blogger. He was able to speak to Meikhtila residents on Wednesday and Thursday morning; communications became more difficult on Thursday afternoon, when some of his sources fled town and stopped answering their phones.
The eyewitnesses I spoke to told me that hundreds of people gathered to destroy Muslim-owned businesses in a very short time span, which they found suspicious – like it was perhaps organised ahead of time. They said many had sticks with them, and used them to destroy the inside of the goldsmith’s store and others. Later, in the evening, they started lighting mosques and Muslims’ homes on fire. The police just stood by.
Mobs also surrounded an Islamic religious school, trapping teenage students and teachers inside. [Several Muslim Burmese activists, citing local contacts, believe that some of them were killed after the school was set on fire this morning. Local authorities have said that a school was burned, but did not mention any deaths. FRANCE 24 has so far been unable to independently confirm these claims].
The Muslims I’ve talked to in Meikhtila are terrified. Many have shut themselves up inside their homes, for fear of being killed if they leave; but many others have already fled town [Buddhists have reportedly fled the violence as well]. They feel like there is nobody to protect them there.
“Muslims in Burma don’t have anyone to turn to for help”
Several leaders from the 88 Generation Students’ group [an activist group led by people who participated in the 1988 pro-democracy students’ revolt, which was quashed by the military junta at the time] travelled to the town today, to try to calm the situation. But it seems that the mobs aren’t listening to them at all. [Editor’s Note: Min Ko Naing, one of the members of the 88 Generation who travelled to Meikhtila on Thursday, told Radio Free Asia: “We would like to request everyone to stop spreading violence. Most local residents are trying to prevent the unrest from spreading.”]
Over the last few decades, the authorities in Burma have trained the population to hate Muslims. Many leaders use derogatory terms for Muslims in public, like “kalar”. Recently, things have become even worse with the conflict in Rakhine state and the increasing influence of a powerful monk in Mandalay, Wirathu [Editor’s Note: Wirathu is known for his Islamophobic views. According to several Muslim Burmese activists, he recently visited Meikhtila, where he reportedly criticised the fact that many businesses were owned by Muslims]. We don’t have anyone to turn to for help. Not even Aung San Suu Kyi [Burma’s opposition leader, who after years of house arrest, now has a seat in parliament] will help us, because in Burma, speaking out for Muslims means losing votes.
RANGOON — The image was meant to convey growing friendship between the United States and Burma, the world’s hottest frontier market. Flanked by national flags, Win Aung, the president of Burma’s main business association, and US Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez shook hands in Rangoon and agreed to deepen business ties between their countries.
The awkward part? The United States still dubs Win Aung a “crony” who allegedly used his close ties to Burma’s old military rulers to build one of the country’s biggest business conglomerates. He remains on a blacklist of entities US citizens and companies are banned from doing business with.
Their handshake on Monday illustrates the complex and sometimes contradictory path the US is forging as it tries to encourage new business ties with Burma while retaining moral sway over powerful economic, political and military interests it has long censured. Many praise the ethical stance taken by US policymakers and hope that the entry of US companies will help forge a more transparent, less corrupt corporate culture. But some question the effectiveness of Washington’s chosen tools and the impact they have on the ability of US investors to compete in what has quickly become a hot market.
Unlike the European Union and Australia, which lifted their travel and financial sanctions against Burma, the United States has taken what US officials call a “calibrated” approach to retain leverage in case Burma’s political and economic reforms get derailed. While Washington has suspended most restrictions, the US still maintains its list of targeted sanctions, bans some people from traveling to the US and blocks imports of specific products, such as jade and rubies, for which trade has been dominated by state and military interests.
Keep reading here. Something’s up with the US- if it wasn’t obvious before, then it definitely is now.
A woman prays while her sister, Lamung Kailing, is treated for injuries sustained from mortar shrapnel December 27, 2012 in Laiza Hospital, Burma. Lamung Kailing, a mother of two, was working on a watermelon plantation when two Burmese Army mortar grenades landed near her and three other villagers.
In 2011, the Burmese army ended a 17-year ceasefire and launched an offensive against rebels in northern Kachin state. Since then, around 100,000 Kachins have been displaced.
See more images from Kachin Conflict, by Christian Holst, here.
Inle Lake is a freshwater lake located in the Shan State in Myanmar (Burma). It’s the second largest lake in Myanmar with an estimated surface area of 44.9 square miles (116 km2). During the dry season, the average water depth is 7 feet (2.1 m), with the deepest point being 12 feet (3.7 m), but during the rainy season this can increase by 5 feet (1.5 m).
The people of Inle Lake (called Intha), some 70’000 of them, live in four cities bordering the lake, in numerous small villages along the lake’s shores, and on the lake itself.
Celebration: This picture capturing the ecstasy among National League for Democracy supporters as they celebrate outside the NLD headquarters during Burmese elections has been shortlisted in the contemporary issues categoryof the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards.
LONDON, 19 November 2012 (IRIN) - The visit of US President Barack Obama to Myanmar on 19 November has renewed international interest in the country’s democratic reforms, but also skepticism about their impact on the lives of ordinary Burmese.
Since Myanmar’s reform-minded President Thein Sein came to office in March 2011, hundreds of political prisoners have been released, freedom of assembly has been allowed, media censorship has eased, and the country’s cabinet has been reshuffled.