The month of October has been very brutal towards the Muslim minority in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. While most of the media’s attention is focused on the chemical warfare in Syria, or the post-US deficit showdown scenario, very little was being reported on the continuing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Perhaps it is because the unfortunate victims happen to be poor Muslims and there are no strategic gains to be garnered by trumpeting their sorry state.
Recently, however, an AP journalist reported that a mob of Buddhists armed with swords and knives invaded a predominantly Muslim village, striking at Muslims as they went along and burned down their homes. Zaw Lay Khar, an eyewitness, said she was petrified when she saw a throng of about 40 armed Buddhists approaching her home. Understanding very well what their intentions were, and with no other options but to flee, she escaped with her daughter but could not take her 94-year-old mother in their haste. When she returned two days later, most of the homes in the village were burned down. She found her mother’s body thrown out on what was once a courtyard with six fatal slashes on her stomach, neck and head. “They set the house on fire. There was nothing we could do but run. We didn’t have time to help her.”
There were similar acts of bloodshed and destruction in nearby villages. One of the victims described the outcome of those attacks. “After most of the villages had been burnt by the Buddhists, the notorious security did not allow us to move from one village to another village to look for lost relatives or allow us to mourn our dead. If the security catches one of us doing that, the police will put the innocent Rohingya Muslim behind bars indefinitely without charges.
“We don’t get enough ration and medical assistance. There are no registered medical facilities for our people, even if there are doctors in our quarters. It has been over 16 months that we have been starved of rations and do not receive a single morsel of rice from the Myanmar government. Some Muslim donors provide rations to us, but it is not enough to cover for all the people here. Many of us have to starve, having just one meal at 3:30pm, in order to cover both lunch and dinner for the whole day. Even if we want to have more we cannot afford.
“Today no one has a job as we cannot go out to work from our village. Most of us were merchants, making our living in the Sittwe Municipal market before the one-sided communal violence. There were 145 thriving shops, which belonged to the Rohingya Muslims, but all of those are closed. We are managing to stay alive by selling our remaining properties.
“We are not allowed to go to buy food from the market, so a truck from our village goes to Dabaing market, which is in the countryside, to buy food for the whole village twice a week, with the police, by paying a bribe of $160 (Dh588) to the state ministry office. Sometimes they hold our supplies back unless we pay more.
“When we give money to the police or military to buy medicines for patients in emergency, they disappear along with the money. When we inform the police or military, they reply that the one who took the money from us was transferred. Sometimes they buy us the things at double or more than double the normal price. When we give money to them to buy 10 items, they just buy seven at double the price and the rest of items go ‘missing’ ... that is what they tell us. The doctors are not allowed to give us treatment. Members of Doctors Without Borders entered our quarters to give us medical assistance on Mondays and Thursdays, twice a week, a couple weeks ago, but they don’t have proper permission from the minister to do so.
“We are very much concerned about any kind of conflict in the future. The government is systematically killing us with continued and periodic outbreak of organised violence, regularly accompanied by either inaction or participation by the government security forces and agents’ provocateurs of unknown government affiliation.”
The trials of these unfortunate Myanmar citizens, who today are viewed as intruders by the Buddhist majority, painfully demonstrate their dire straits. They have no voice to speak on their behalf. On the contrary, there is government support for the ultra-nationalist Buddhist movement which views the presence of any Muslim in the country as a threat. In a thinly veiled form of ethnic cleansing, Myanmar President Thein Sein himself proposed a plan to resettle the Rohingya Muslim population abroad.
In sharp contrast to Myanmar’s attempt to portray itself as discarding its brutal and repressive past and getting on the progressive track, its disregard of unmitigated and unprovoked violence against the Muslim minority is a reminder that not much has changed.
The international community of nations and international human rights organisations, that had so vigorously pursued the democratisation of Myanmar in the past, must now focus their attention on saving of one of its minorities. The safety and security of all minorities in any society must be guaranteed, regardless of faith or belief.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena