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Report: Police Allowed Massacre of Muslims in Burma


A 153-page report released today by Human Rights Watch makes for pretty distressing reading for anyone following the story of Burma’s emergence as an “open” and “free” democratic country. The report describes in detail the massacre of Rohingya Muslims by mostly Buddhist Arakanese, and blames the Burmese police and political leadership for allowing, even encouraging, the slaughter and for not doing anything to punish the guilty.

In the deadliest incident, on October 23 at least 70 Rohingya were killed in a massacre in Yan Thei village in Mrauk-U Township. Despite advance warning of the attack, only a small number of riot police, local police, and army soldiers were on duty to provide security. Instead of preventing the attack by the Arakanese mob or escorting the villagers to safety, they assisted the killings by disarming the Rohingya of their sticks and other rudimentary weapons they carried to defend themselves.

“First the soldiers told us, ‘Do not do anything, we will protect you, we will save you,’ so we trusted them,” a 25-year-old survivor told Human Rights Watch. “But later they broke that promise. The Arakanese beat and killed us very easily. The security did not protect us from them.”

By chance, a reporter for the Economist arrived in an area where some of the worst violence took place. Reading the HRW report, the unnamed reporter reflects on what he or she saw and what the future might bring:

It was clear something terrible was happening. Yet it was impossible to find out precisely what. We were told there had been massacres, including of women and children….

It was a profoundly depressing experience. Rarely have I seen ethnic or religious hatred of such intensity, or felt so little hope of reconciliation….

The violence in June and October resolved nothing. Tens of thousands of Rohingyas remain displaced, in squalid camps that will become even more hazardous to their health with the onset of the rainy season next month. At least 20,000 have taken to the seas to flee; more than 500 have drowned.

Burma’s story is reflected in the Western media as one of political opening, of a military dictatorship emerging into a era of democracy, human rights, development and hope for the future. This narrative might be true for much of the country. But it is not true for the Rohingya.

The Rohingya are a minority Muslim people in a majority Buddhist country, accused of being illegal immigrants when in fact many have lived in Burma for generations. Even President Thein Sein, celebrated for leading Burma’s democratic reforms, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Laurete, have remained silent on the plight of the Rohingya, either calling for them to be given a home abroad or questioning wether they should be considered true Burmese citizens. As that reporter for the Economist notes, Burma is caught in “a de facto but unstable uneasy apartheid. The state is waiting for the next eruption.”

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  • USNK2

    Burma’s war against the ‘stateless’ Rohingya was ongoing during Obama’s state visit to Burma.
    Mr. Mead needs to assign someone to reading AsiaTimes online for the horrific backstory.

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