By NVONews.Com News Desk,
When Myanmar badly needs image makeover large-scale violence erupted between Muslims and Buddhists, which led to the killing of many people in the last one week. Interestingly, the world has been observing the country’s march towards democracy very keenly and the unrest is likely to have international ramifications.
Violence is confined to north-western districts bordering Bangladesh after the gang rape and murder of a Buddhist woman. Muslims have been blamed for the incident and in the reprisal attack by a Buddhist mob 10 of them were killed.
The bordering districts have a history of violence between the minority Muslims, called Rohingyas, and majority Buddhists. The Buddhist-dominated Myanmar has never recognized these eight lakh Muslims as their own citizens. They are called as Bengalis, who infiltrated into their country. In 1970s thousands of them were even pushed across the border.
Bangladesh, on the other hand, always says that the Muslims are originally from Myanmar. The truth is that Muslims have been living in that country for centuries. TBritish exiled many of them after they crushed 1857 War of Independence in India. In fact the grave of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar is in Rangoon (now Yangon).
The latest violence has come as a big challenge to a reformist government, which replaced a military junta last year and vowed to forge unity. It wants to end Myanmar’s five decades of isolation––since the 1962 military coup.
According to reports the fighting erupted on Friday in the Rakhine State town of Maungdaw, but has spread to the capital Sittwe, a port town, and nearby villages, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency late on Sunday and impose a dawn-to-dusk curfew. Foreign aid workers have begun pulling out, aid sources said.
In this part of Myanmar Muslims and Buddhists have been living since long with what is called uneasy proximity. In the latest violence and arson both the sides are using traditional weapons to attack each other. They both are accusing each other of perpetrating atrocities. The local police and army have been blamed of doing little to prevent violence.
However, independent sources confirm that the Muslims were the main target of the latest spate of violence. Not only that hate-mails have bombarded the internet. They are being dubbed as global terrorists, when the truth is that they are stateless citizens living in abject poverty.
Experts are of the view that the violence undermines the image of ethnic unity and stability that helped persuade the United States and Europe to suspend economic sanctions early this year. If the unrest persists for few more days it could threaten tourism and foreign investment.
President Thein Sein, a former general, may be compelled to confront an issue that human rights groups have criticized for years: the plight of thousands of stateless Rohingya Muslims who live along border with Bangladesh.
Rohingya Muslims have long demanded recognition as an indigenous ethnic group with full citizenship by birthright, claiming centuries-old lineage in Rakhine. They accused ethnic Rakhine of terrorizing their communities.
According to the UN refugee agency there are about 800,000 Rohingya Muslims in three districts of Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh. They are subject to many forms of “persecution, discrimination and exploitation.”
Meanwhile, President Thein Sein, while hastily addressing on TV said on Sunday, violence could put the country’s transition to democracy in danger if it spread further.
He assured that the government would compensate those who had suffered losses and asked people to be magnanimous.