Date: June 12 2012
SECTARIAN violence could put Burma’s transition to democracy at risk, President Thein Sein warned, as the government declared a state of emergency in the west after eight people died in fighting between Buddhists and Muslims.
‘‘If we put racial and religious issues at the forefront ... there’s a danger that [the troubles] could multiply and move beyond Arakan,’’ Mr Thein Sein said in a televised address.
‘‘If this happens, the general public should be aware that the country’s stability and peace, democratisation process and development, which are only in transition right now, could be severely affected and much would be lost,’’ he said.
The state of emergency order effectively allows the military to take over administrative functions. The order would remain until further notice, he said.
A 12-year-old girl identified as Razen Bibi became the eighth person to die in the violence, after reportedly being shot on Sunday by riot police outside her home in the town of Maungdaw, in Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group reported as many as 30 people were killed and hundreds of buildings torched in rioting in Muslim-majority border towns, citing a witness account by one of its reporters.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has appealed for calm.
The violence stems from a June 3 incident in which a group of Muslim pilgrims were beaten to death by Buddhist Arakanese, allegedly in response to the gang rape and murder of a 26-year-old woman by three Muslim men late last month. The three accused are awaiting trial.
Ethnic tension is not new in Arakan, which sits on the border with Bangladesh and has Burma’s highest concentration of Muslims. But the current violence is the worst seen in more than 10 years.
Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, said the situation was all the more tragic because both sides had been persecuted by Burmese authorities. He said the nominally civilian government could well benefit from the unrest because it diverted attention from the military’s continued attacks on other ethnic groups.
Up to 300,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh to escape state-sanctioned abuse and discrimination by Arakanese locals.
They belong to the only ethnic group in Burma subjected to a two-child policy and severe travel limits. Rohingya babies born out of wedlock are placed on blacklists that deny them schooling and forbids marriage.
Animosity has been fanned by prominent members of Burma’s pro-democracy movement. Ko Ko Gyi, a former political prisoner and leader of the 1988 student uprising, this week referred to the Rohingya as terrorists: ‘‘We want to say clearly that Rohingya are not one of the [Burma] ethnic nationalities.’’
The United Nations is evacuating staff from its base in western Burma because of the deadly clashes.
The UN’s Ashok Nigam said about 44 international staff and their families were leaving Maungdaw, where the UN has a humanitarian operation.
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