The violence in Burma that began earlier this week has gotten much, much worse. Burmese security forces have begun to use force to stop the clashes between the stateless Rohingya Muslim community and the Buddhists who are trying to displace them. As a result, more than 80 have now been killed. Meanwhile the tens of thousands already displaced remain in limbo. Reuters:
The military opened fire to prevent Rakhine villagers on two boats from storming a Rohingya Muslim community, said Aung Kyaw Min, a 28-year-old Rakhine from Taung Bwe with a bullet in his leg. “I don’t know why the military shot at us,” he said. Two people died and 10 were wounded, said the villagers.In a separate incident on Thursday, security forces shot at a crowd of Rakhine protesters on Kyauktaw’s outskirts, killing two and wounding four, said Hla Hla Myint, 17, whose forehead was grazed by a bullet.The shooting of Buddhists is a sign that the military, which has been accused in the past of siding with Buddhists, is getting tougher following international criticism that Myanmar’s new government was doing too little to protect Muslim Rohingyas.
Initially, the state has stepped up to “protect” the Rohingyas, but so far they’ve done more harm than good. Meanwhile the Rohingyas are still stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Burmese claim that the Rohingyas belong in Bangladesh, but Bangladesh has been particularly unwelcoming. India Today reports:
On Thursday, Bangladesh border guards turned away 45 Rohingya trying to enter into Bangladesh by boats, said Lt. Col. Khalequzzaman, a border commander. Local police chief Selim Mohammad Jahangir said Friday that at least another 3,000 Rohingya Muslims had been spotted on about 40 boats on the Naaf River off Bangladesh’s Tekhnaf coast.He said the boats may try to enter Bangladesh, but “we have instructions not to let them come here.”Bangladesh says it’s too poor to accept more refugees and feed them. Bangladesh is hosting about 30,000 Rohingya who fled Myanmar to escape government atrocities in 1991.
This whole situation is a complete mess. The Burmese government may have been doing the right thing by finally standing up for the Rohingya Muslims (if, indeed, this is what they were doing), but their handling of the situation has been a disaster. Nearly 100 people have died, tensions are rising, and the Rohingya still have no place to go.Unfortunately, this is just one issue that the fledgling semi-democracy of Burma will need to address. As the country slowly opens up, many of the tensions that had been bottled up during the decades of military rule will now be unleashed. The government will have to learn how to deal with these issues, and how to resist the impulse to use excessive force as a calming mechanism. Burma is still new at this, but it will need to improve in a hurry: things aren’t likely to get any easier.