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Myanmar: Rakhine Villages Attacked

This post is part of our special coverage Myanmar's Rohingya.

News that a Rakhine girl was raped and killed triggered a huge riot in Maung Taw, Rakhine, Myanmar. The dead body, with mutilations on the neck, ears, and shoulders, was found [my] on May 29 in the morning.

Three suspects were immediately arrested but many people felt that judicial action was slow. About 700 Rakhine people conducted a protest [my] in front of the police station and local administrative agency.

A few days later, nine Muslims were killed [my] in a bus attack after vigilantes mistakenly assumed that the child rapists were onboard. Muslims in Yangon protested against the usage of the term ‘kala’ in government newspapers reporting the incident, which they say is a term of insult.

Netizens actively discussed the issue. Some were frustrated with the violence, some wrote about the senselessness of revenge, while others appealed to the public not to mix up religious disputes with immigrant issues.

A few days ago, a group of terrorists attacked public places in Rakhine. Naing Htoo Aung wrote [my] about the riot:

A Muslim crowd of a thousand who finished Friday service from Kyaut Mosque attacked guest houses and destroyed the roof of a private bank. In the afternoon, they burned more guest houses and six food stalls. Fire spread to the nearby Bo Hmu village. Two houses in the town proper were burned down as well. Terrorists also attacked Yay Myaing village and a Buddhist monastery in Shwe Yin Aye village.

Public hospitals were also put on fire and the staff had to move out quickly to save the hospital patients. Residents near the hospital had to flee [rki] and seek refuge in Buddhist monasteries. According to government reports, eight people were killed in the clashes.

A Rakhine village on fire. Photo from Facebook page of Eleven Media Group

Myanmar netizens blogged about the violence as well:

The Myanmar government sent armed forces to stop the vigilantes but according to netizen reports, the situation is not still under control. About 5 hours later, government announced martial law in Maung Taw with immediate effect.

Facebook users quickly condemned the attacks. Majority expressed their anger towards Bengali immigrants who were accused of starting the attacks. Demo Waiyan, an online activist, urged [my] more protection for Rakhine people:

I assume it is an insult to Rakhine locals and state sovereignty. I hope the armed forces would protect our Rakhine ethnics. Raise your reputation by doing so. Public would stand at your side if you were to protect the safety of public. I request the sending of more armed forces for the local security of Rakhine people.

Kyaw Myo Khine asserted the people's right to self-defense:

We have a right of self-defense. I hope DASSK[Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] would understand that this is not (an issue of) bullying the minority. They are not (members of) minority anyway. This is just sovereignty issue and this is just terrorism and they are evil enemies of freedom.

Eight eight generation leaders who were freed from detention last January said that Rohingya (Bengali immigrants) should not be recognized as an ethnic group of Myanmar. Ko Ko Gyi, a political leader, said [my] they could have citizenship rights if they could prove that they have been living in Myanmar for many years already and if they could speak one ethnic language of the country. [Note: This contrasts with common view outside Myanmar that Rohingya people are among the most persecuted minority groups in the world.]

On the other hand, a number of netizens were disappointed at exile media and some media giants such as Channel News Asia after they described the attack as a religious clash. Myo Set criticized the ‘inaccurate’ reporting of mainstream media:

Famous exile media groups were viewed by hardline nationalists and social activists in Myanmar as major lobbyists for causing such racial tensions. Ko Ko Kyi warned that exile pressures can be one of the contributing factors for such chaotic conditions. On official Facebook page of a Myanmar government officer, he requested that exile Burmese media should not describe the riots as religious conflicts.

On Facebook, a number of Burmese calling for a boycott of these media groups and lobbyists spread like wildfire.

Political activists emphasized that this transnational issue is not simply a religious conflict but a huge problem caused by the Immigration Bureau of Myanmar. They said that local Rakhines (Arakanese) have long suffered from troubles created by corrupt staff of Border Security Forces at Maung Daw.

Surprisingly, though Twitter is not a popular online tool among Myanmar netizens, it became a venue for discussion and exchange of views about the riots in Rakhine. Netizens used the hastags #Myanmar or #Burma, #Rohingya and #Rakhine to monitor the situation. Here are some tweets about the attack.

@maynyein: If #Rohingya are refugees,how come they are armed?? Where do they get weapons?? It's clearly #Terrorist Attack.

@nyanhtunlinn: I wish #Rakhine People are safe in #Burma # Myanmar ! Stand with us #BBC #CNN #Aljazeera ! Make a true report..please!

@forgetmefrd: @captain_amarito the truth is thousand of #Bengali known as #Rohingyas gathered & burned many houses of local residents, #Rakhine #Myanmar.

‏@tayzar44: Why foreign media are saying as #Rohingya are being attack??? WHY? actually they are attacking civilian…

@Thant: They are terrorists, not protesters, they are armed from the support of Bengali and #Rakhine tribes are now under attack. #BBC lies.#Myanmar

Netizens also showed their concern for the safety of locals in Maung Taw and Buu The Taung townships in Rakhine state. Min Thein is worried [my] about the residents who were attacked in Rakhine:

I'm saying I'm gonna sleep but I can't. Since they also would not be able sleep with fear and worries.

Su Myat Lwin posted a similar message as well:

How can we sleep tonight while our brothers and sisters are feeling like hell?

The Myanmar government already imposed Martial law in Maung Taw and Buu Thee Taung. Hmuu Zaw, an officer at the president's office, assured [my] the public that government armed forces would protect local Rakhines from terrorists. There are some unconfirmed news that people would hold a protest against Bengali riots in Yangon.

Ko John warned [my] them to avoid religious disputes which would reverse the recent reforms made by the government:

Such protests would make Muslims in Yangon uncomfortable. They may be also against the Bengali/Rohingya.

Exile media seem also to be spreading inaccurate news about religious/ethnic disputes.

Such short-tempered acts could lead the country to revert back from good reforms.

He also urged unity and immediate assistance for Rakhine ethnics under attack:

So, I'd like to request you all. Please don't do such protests. Instead, wouldn't it be nice if we gather and assist Rakhine ethnics instead?

This post is part of our special coverage Myanmar's Rohingya.

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