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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2736

Who is behind the Rakhine Unrest in Burma?

By - Zin Linn

Recently on October 1, President Thein Sein made a tour in Burma/Myanmar's western state of Rakhine which was the first visit by the president since the Rakhine sectarian conflict occurred in 2012. On his arrival in Maungtaw, the president met with both Muslim and Rakhine communities, urging them to keep on residing in peaceful coexistence.

Also on October 1, President U Thein Sein sent a message to the Conference of the Leaders of Five Faith. In his massage, he said, “Individual freedom or the basic foundation of democracy is to enjoy freedom without harming others. The Constitution of Myanmar fully guarantees freedom of religion as the fundamental rights of citizens. We all should never misuse this noble idea of the freedom of religion as a springboard for any kind of extremism and fueling hatred.”

However, looking back in the near past in May and June 2012, sectarian violence in western Myanmar had taken place. As a result of unrest, riots and arson between groups of raging peoples, killing 50, wounding 54 and burning down 2230 houses and 14 religious buildings till 14 June, the president’s office says in its statement (1/2012) dated 25 October 2012. The incident also left 61,462 people homeless forcing victims to take shelter at relief camps, the statement mentioned.

In order to bring back immediate peace and stability, the Rakhine State government issued Article 144 of the Criminal Code of Law in some townships in Rakhine State. The president also declared a state of emergency by issuing ordinance in agreement with the constitution, the statement said. Moreover, the government in cooperation with local people as well as police and army personnel took measures to restore the rule of law, the president’s office says in its statement (1/2012). According to the statement, the state of emergency was declared under the law with the approval of the Union Parliament.

According to the then president office’s statement, the government was under serious criticism over the affair – described as an abuse of human rights by some international organizations – and the case had been taken to the United Nations. The government of Myanmar had to defend against those criticisms through all possible means, the statement said. Concurrently, the statement (1/2012) said that the government had to make efforts to get humanitarian aid for temporary shelter, provision of food and health care and rehabilitation of victims.

According to the then government press statement, riots erupted in Kyaukpyu, Minbya, Myebon and Mrauk-U townships all of a sudden in Rakhine State, leaving 12 dead, 50 wounded, 1948 houses and eight religious buildings in ashes with substantial numbers of homeless people till 24 October, 2012. However, The Associated Press said that at least 56 people killed and 1,900 homes destroyed in renewed ethnic violence in western Myanmar as the government warned perpetrators and the international community appealed for calm.

Myanmar achieved the support and international recognition of its drive for smooth transition in the democratization process within a short period of time, the statement underlined. While the international community was watching the continuing progress in the country with awareness, the Rakhine riots and violence caused a great impact on the national integrity and interest.

In last July, President U Thein Sein has urged the Interfaith Friendship Group and Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to cooperate with the government to help end the conflict the two communities in the country, the state-run media reported.

He insisted that the conflict between Buddhists and Muslims is being exaggerated and that it could damage the international image of the country and its reforms. The constitution of the country grants protection to the four major religions including Islam, said U Thein Sein. The racial discrimination has no place in Myanmar, he added.

He urged the Interfaith Friendship Group to work in partnership with the government. The first priority is the rehabilitation of the areas where the conflicts broke out, he said. According to him, his government has already spent over 6 billion kyats (US$6.1 million) on delivering aid to over 100,000 victims in cooperation with the international organizations.

He said action had been taken against the criminals involved in the conflicts and investigations would continue.
The second priority task is to prevent a repeat of such conflicts and the Interfaith Friendship Group is required to be part of the task to form region/state/township-level groups. He called on Myanmar Human Rights Commission to develop human rights education to increase the public’s awareness of their rights. The third priority, he said, is to work towards a resolution on the origin of the conflict.

Hence, the government needs more effective measures to be taken for the rule of law and community peace and tranquility with the collaborative efforts of the police, army and local inhabitants. Even though the government declared through its statement that there are persons and organizations who are manipulating the incidents in Rakhine State from behind the scenes, it could not find out the real culprits. As a result, the statement called for the manipulators to be exposed and legal action taken against them.

The United States has condemned the latest fatal attacks against minority Muslims in western Burma and urging authorities to do more to tackle the long-standing sectarian tension within reach. The U.S. Embassy in Rangoon's statement on 2 October followed several days of violence that has killed at least five Muslims, several injured, and hundreds of civilians displaced in violence that included arson attacks destroying dozens of homes and several mosques.

The statement also calls on religious and civil society leaders, and all citizens throughout the country, to stand against continued violence targeting Muslim communities, and to promote understanding, mutual respect, and peaceful co-existence among all people in this diverse country.

It also urges the Myanmar government and local authorities to do more ensuring progress in security, rule of law, justice, humanitarian access, and reconciliation in Rakhine State to stem the sources of on-going tension, and create conditions for sustainable peace and development in the nation.

The ongoing sectarian violence in western Myanmar also looks as if a threat at-hand to destabilize the current reforms endorsed by the President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government.

- Asian Tribune -

Who is behind the Rakhine Unrest in Burma?
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