Burma faces worst unrest in years
CLASHES BETWEEN ETHNIC Arakan Buddhists and stateless Rohingya Muslims in western Burma, leaving about 50 dead, are dominating Burmese headlines.
More than 2,300 houses and buildings have burned, and more than 30,000 local residents are homeless and are taking shelters at Buddhist monasteries. The Burmese government finally declared a state of emergency and warned local residents not to gather more than five people together in Arakan State where violence is centered.
Local residents and journalists in Sittwe, the capital Arakan State said that the sky over the capital is full of smoke, coming from burning houses and building. Women and children are not seen on the street because of fear. Young local residents were carrying swords, sharp metal objects, sticks and bamboo rods, ready to attack anyone who seems opposed to them.
More than 700 Burmese soldiers are now deployed in Sittwe for security and residents are banned to going out at nighttime. Many land transportation from different destinations to Sittwe are currently stopped.
The violence started with the rape and murder last month of an ethnic Arakanese Buddhist girl, allegedly by three Muslims belonging to the stateless Rohingya. In response, Arakanese killed 10 Muslims on June 3, leading to intense violence between Rohingya and Arakanese.
The violence escalated in Maungdaw Township in Arakan State on June 8
when a mob of 1,000 Muslims went on a rampage and had to be restrained by Burmese armed troops.
Rohingya migrants have been a controversial issue for centuries in Burma, and many Rohingyas claim that they are the true natives of Arakan State.
According to some historians, the region was visited by Arab traders from the seventh century onward, and—having converted to Islam— cultural traits tend to support the theory that Rohingyas are part of the native population of the region.
However, local Buddhist Arakanese people (and the Burmese military government) claim that Rohingyas are migrants from southeastern regions in neighboring Bangladesh, in a process that started before the British colonial era, but has accelerated in recent years.
In 1948, shortly after Burmese independence, the Muslim immigrants called for the new central government to designate Arakan State’s Buthidaung and Maungtaw as their province. That same year, they launched an armed rebellion against the Burmese army through the Mujahid movement.
The Rohingya people were first recognized in Burma by the government of U Nu, the first Prime Minister of Burma. Some even served in his administration. A wealthy and influential Rohingya, Sultan Mahmood, one even appointed as Minister of Health.
U Nu and his colleague, Ba Swe, of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), publicly stated in their campaign speeches that the “Bengali Muslims” were recognized among Burma’s ethnic races under the name of “Rohingya.” Several political leaders released statements simply to win Rohingya votes. Some AFPFL leaders in the area even granted instant citizenship to the new influx of Bengalis to allow them to cast votes for their party.
In the past, violence against Rohingyas in Arakan State—widespread killings, rape and forced labor—led to two mass migrations of refugees in 1978 and 1991.