Attack in Sittwe Raises Tensions in Arakan State

Buddhists gather at Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon to pray
 for an end to the violence in Arakan State.(Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Tensions in Arakan State continue to climb after a fresh outbreak of violence on Sunday left five people injured, despite a growing security presence in the state following attacks on Buddhist villages by Muslim mobs on Friday.

The latest incident took place on Sunday morning in Sittwe, the state capital, raising concerns that the wave of violence appears to be spreading. Friday’s attacks, which left seven people dead, targeted 22 Buddhist villages in two predominantly Muslim townships near the Bangladesh border.

An official at the hospital in Sittwe where the victims of today’s attacks are being treated told The Irrawaddy that all five are ethnic Arakanese. He added that one of the injured men is in serious condition.

As tensions continue to rise, more local authorities are imposing curfews in their areas in an effort to bring the situation under control. In addition to Maungdaw and Buthidaung, where Friday’s attacks took place, four other townships—Sittwe, Thandwe, Kyaukpyu, and Ramree—are now under a 6 pm to 6 am curfew. Gatherings of more than five people are also forbidden.

According to residents of Sittwe, several houses were burned down after hundreds of Muslims attempted to enter the Buddhist neighborhood of Min Kan this morning. After an initial confrontation with local residents, the mob was dispersed when security forces arrived on the scene and fired into the air.

“The is still smoke in the air in Min Kan after the houses there were burned down,” said one local resident. “Some people from around this area have abandoned their houses to take refuge at Buddhist monasteries,” he added.

Meanwhile, leaders of the 88 Generation Students group have spoken out on the situation in Arakan State, making statements on the sensitive issue of the status of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group living in the state whose status in Burma is hotly disputed.

“We have not said anything about this for a long time, but now we have to express our views on the Rohingya,” said Ko Ko Gyi, a prominent leader of the group of former student activists.

“The Rohingya are not a Burmese ethnic group. The root cause of the violence in Buthidaung and Maungdaw comes from across the border and foreign countries,” he said, adding that countries that criticize Burma for its refusal to recognize the Rohingya should respect its sovereignty.

Another 88 Generation leader, Mya Aye, who is also a Muslim, concurred that the source of the tension was “from the other country”—an apparent reference to Bangladesh, where tens of thousands of Rohingya live as refugees.

Insisting that this was not a religious issue, Mya Aye condemned those who carried out Friday’s attacks, saying that they are the majority in the areas where the violence occurred.

“I want to ask the government to provide security to vulnerable people and take action against those who created anarchy,” he said.

Tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan State have been growing since last Sunday, when 10 Muslims were dragged from a bus and beaten to death, in an apparent reprisal for the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman, allegedly by three Muslim men, late last month.

The situation in the state has also become a concern in other parts of the country. Last week, protests were held in Rangoon over the murder of the Muslims, and political leaders, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, called for calm.

In response to the latest violence, around 1,000 Arakanese gathered at Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma’s most famous Buddhist shrine, to pray for an end to the violence.

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