When the fire truck arrived at his burning village in Burma’s western Rakhine state late last Monday, local teacher Khin Maung Kyi thought help had finally come. Muslim villagers in Kyauk Pyu township had been battling the blaze for hours, after a petrol bomb attack by their Buddhist neighbours. But instead of dousing the flames with water, Khin Maung Kyi claims that the firemen sprayed the fire with petrol.
“The firemen threw petrol on the flames, as if it was water! The authorities are one-sided. We can never trust them,” he said. Last Wednesday, the entire Muslim community in Kyauk Pyu decided to flee in their fishing boats, joining thousands of others trying to escape a new outbreak of communal violence between the majority Buddhist Rakhine population and the Muslim Rohingya.
“The first sign of trouble was when our Rakhine neighbours began to leave their homes. Then at 8pm [on Monday] we heard the ringing of a bell. Soon after, a car turned up full of Rakhine,” said Khin Maung Kyi, 64. “They threw petrol bombs at our homes and then sped away. When we tried to put the fires out, the Rakhine attacked us with swords and spears.”
Satellite images of Kyauk Pyu and its coastal surrounds, released by Human Rights Watch at the weekend, show the extent of the devastation. Where once there were houseboats and floating barges moored along a harbour town packed with houses, now there is charred desolation, with 811 homes and other structures destroyed.
“If we had stayed, we would have been killed,” said Khin Maung Kyi. “This is like Bosnia. This is ethnic cleansing.” The violence stems from an incident in May, when a Rakhine Buddhist woman was raped and killed, allegedly by three Muslim men.
A few days later, 10 Muslims were killed on a bus. In the violence that followed, around 100 people were killed, and 100,000 fled to camps in and around the state capital, Sittwe – the vast majority of them Muslim Rohingyas, an ethnic minority described by the United Nations as one of the most oppressed groups in the world. While tensions calmed for a few months, unrest flared again last week, with at least 67 people killed.
The violence in Rakhine state has placed the new civilian government in a difficult position, as it emerges from decades of dictatorship. There is widespread hatred in Burma of the Rohingya, who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. But accusations from abroad of ethnic cleansing are not what the government needs when it trying to attract foreign investment and diplomatic recognition. A recent report by Human Rights Watch accused the government of “both failing to intervene to stop sectarian violence and directly participating in abuses”. Villagers fleeing the stricken areas say police have opened fire indiscriminately, injuring both Muslims and Buddhists. ENTIRE ARTICLE AT: http://www.independent.co.uk/