Sectarian violence has engulfed Myanmar’s frontier state of Rakhine in recent days, with clashes between Buddhist and Muslim ethnic groups. Tension between the two groups is not new and there are few solutions in sight.
The cycle of revenge attacks between ethnic groups in the border state of Rakhine is posing a new challenge to Myanmar’s reformist government, with the repercussions now rippling across the border into neighboring Bangladesh.
The latest surge in sectarian unrest began with the rape and murder of a Rakhine Buddhist woman, allegedly by three Muslims, late last month. Within days, the response had turned more brutal, with at least 10 Muslims killed when they were pulled off a bus in the Taungup township.
Last Friday, Muslims belonging to the Rohingya ethnic minority are alleged to have run amok in the town of Maung Taw, burning down hundreds of houses and killing seven people.
By Monday, many Rohingya were taking flight, with groups of men – apparently ethnic Rakhine Buddhists – roaming the streets of the state capital Sittwe carrying sticks and knives.
Announcing a state of emergency in the region on Sunday, President Thein Sein warned of the possible terrible outcome, with security forces drafted into the area.
“The situation could deteriorate and could extend beyond Rakhine state if we are killing each other with such sectarianism, endless hatred, the desire for vengeance and anarchy,” Thein Sein said.
Attacks ‘well-planned and organized’
However, the president of the British-based Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), Nurul Islam, said he believed that the attacks had in part been orchestrated by the security forces themselves.
He claimed Muslim residents had been fired upon for breaking a curfew when they fled homes that Rakhine extremists had set alight.
“All of this is well planned and organized. The leading Rakhine political organization is behind this,” he told Deutsche Welle.
Under Myanmar law, the Rohingya are denied citizenship, with many of the Buddhist majority in the state describing them as illegal immigrants. Many Rohingya travel between Myanmar and Bangladesh and the government says their presence in Myanmar does not date back to 1814 – a requirement that needs to be met under the country’s citizenship laws. Bangladesh claims the Rohingya are from Myanmar.