The violent incidents in Central Myanmar, which initially targeted Muslims, their places of worship and properties at Meikhtila on March 20, 2013, have since spread to other areas north of Rangoon and there have been reports of Muslims as well as Buddhists now being targeted often by the same mobs which move on motor-bikes.
In the fresh incidents, there have been no fatalities. Rioting groups have been attacking places of worship and properties of both the communities. These have strengthened suspicions that the violence directed against both the communities has been instigated by anti-reform elements in the Army in a bid to discredit President Thein Sein.
Members of both the communities allege that the police are remaining passive spectators so long as only places of worship and properties are attacked without causing any loss of lives.
In an open letter to President Thein Sein, leaders of four Muslim organizations, including the Islamic Religious Affairs Council and the Myanmar Muslim National Affairs Organisation, have accused the security forces of standing by as rioters went on a rampage.
Min Ko Naing, a member of the 88 Generation movement which organized the students movement against the Army in 1988, alleged in an interview that the mobs attacked both Buddhist and Muslim prayer houses. He recalled that the military was swift and used brutal force to suppress protests by monks and students during the decades of junta rule in the past and added:" In the past, when high school students were marching with peacock flags and when Buddhists monks were marching peacefully, they got shot by security forces. That was an extreme measure. Now, they cannot stop and arrest the trouble makers behind this violence.”
Stung by widespread criticism of inaction by the security forces, President Thein Sein, in a televised address on the evening of March 28, said he had authorized the use of force by authorities to prevent the spread of violence and told “religious extremists” that they would not escape prosecution for participating in acts of violence.
He said: “I would like to warn all political opportunists and religious extremists who try to exploit the noble teachings of these religions and have tried to plant hatred among people of different faiths for their own self-interest: their efforts will not be tolerated.”
Thein Sein said the riots had been caused by organized “instigators [who] exploit the situation to engineer violence in other parts of the country.”
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. Twitter: @SORBONNE75