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    Muslim victims of Myanmar unrest face uncertain future

    These three siblings lost their dad. He was killed when he was trying to get food for his family. Something is very wrong in a country when finding food for your children to save their lives is a crime worthy of death. Photo: Oddny Blog

    Jared Ferrie
    April 30, 2013
    MEIKHTILA, Myanmar
    – In Myanmar’s central heartlands, justice and security is elusive for
    thousands of Muslims who lost their homes in a deadly rampage by Buddhist mobs
    in March.
    Many are detained
    in prison-like camps, unable to return to neighborhoods and businesses razed in
    four days of violence in Meikhtila that killed at least 43 people, most of them
    Muslims, displaced nearly 13,000, and touched off a wave of anti-Muslim unrest
    fuelled by radical Buddhist monks.
    “It’s for
    their own security,” said a police officer at a camp inside a sports
    stadium on Meikhtila’s outskirts. The camp holds more than 1,600 people guarded
    by police with orders not to let them leave, said the officer, who declined to
    give his name.
    A dawn-to-dusk
    curfew has been in force in Meikhtila since the government declared martial law
    on March 22. Skeletal walls and piles of rubble are all that remain of Muslim
    homes and businesses that once covered several blocks at the heart of the town
    of 100,000 people in the center of Myanmar.
    Trials have begun,
    but so far only Muslims stand accused, raising fears that courts will further
    aggravate religious tension by ignoring the Buddhist ringleaders of the
    The unrest and the
    combustible sectarian relations behind it are one of the biggest tests of
    Myanmar’s reform-minded government, which took power in March 2011 after almost
    half a century of hardline military rule.
    Myanmar is a
    predominantly Buddhist country, but about 5 percent of its 60 million people
    are Muslim. They face a growing campaign of anti-Islamic sentiment led by
    radical Buddhist monks.
    An independent
    commission released a report on Monday saying Myanmar must urgently address the
    plight of Muslims displaced by sectarian bloodshed in western Rakhine State. It
    came in response to violence last June and October that killed at least 192
    people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims in an area
    dominated by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
    The trial of seven
    Muslim men accused of murdering a monk, believed to be the first killing in the
    March unrest in Meikhtila, is expected to conclude this week. Those on trial
    say they are innocent.
    The sound of
    hammers ring across the city as workers dismantle what is left of the Muslim
    neighborhood, stone by stone. There are no signs of Muslims on the streets.
    More than 8,000
    Muslims are being held in seven official camps that are off-limits to
    journalists. Thousands more have crowded into unofficial camps in villages near
    Meikhtila, where police also restrict their movements and prevented them from
    speaking with Reuters.
    Phil Robertson,
    deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said detaining
    internally displaced people (IDP) is a violation of their rights.
    people up in an IDP camp is not a substitute for providing basic security and
    ensuring communal peace,” he said. “Even if the authorities’ intent
    is good, they are clearly going about this the wrong way.”
    Spokesmen for the
    president’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
    One of the office’s
    spokesmen, Ye Htut, has previously stressed that the monks involved in the
    Meikhtila violence make up only a fraction of the 500,000-strong monkhood.
    “All perpetrators of violence will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of
    the law,” said President Thein Sein in a nationally televised speech on
    March 28.
    Victims in relief
    camps “live freely and happily”, reported the state-run New Light of
    Myanmar newspaper on April 5.
    The government has
    promised to help Muslims rebuild their homes, but reconstruction has yet to
    begin. Building more than 1,500 houses burned down or damaged would cost $7
    million, it said.
    Some Buddhist
    residents said returning Muslims were unwelcome.
    “I can’t accept
    living with them again, because they insulted Buddhism and a monk’s blood was
    spilled on the ground,” said Than Htun, as he waited outside a prison to
    see his son who was arrested for looting money from a Muslim home during the
    Such hostility
    could influence the outcome of the ongoing murder trial, suggested Thein Than
    Oo, a lawyer for three of the seven Muslim accused, who believed the judge is
    under pressure from Buddhists to deliver a guilty verdict.
    “He has to
    satisfy the people,” he said.
    He pointed to the
    case of the Muslim owner of a gold shop, his wife and an employee who on April
    11 received 14 years without parole for theft and assault. The charges stemmed
    from an argument with a Buddhist customer, which sparked the first bout of rioting
    earlier on the day the monk was killed.
    The court imposed
    harsh sentences due to the violence that erupted afterwards, said Thein Than
    Most victims of the
    rioting were Muslim but no Buddhists have appeared in court. The district judge
    said they would be tried after the current trial ends.
    Neither the judge
    nor the district police could say if any monks would be charged. Monks led many
    of the mobs, according to dozens of witnesses interviewed by Reuters.
    New York-based
    Physicians for Human Rights called for an independent investigation into a
    report of a massacre at an Islamic school on March 21. The group said 32
    students and four teachers were missing.
    One student, Soe
    Min Oo, 18, said he fled with other students and teachers when the school was
    attacked, taking refuge with other Muslims in a nearby compound.
    Soe Min Oo said the
    mob tossed petrol bombs into the compound until police arrived and offered to
    bring the nearly 200 Muslims to safety. But the few dozen officers could only
    protect some of them, said Soe Min Oo, pausing frequently to fight back tears.
    He said the
    Buddhist mob hit them and threw stones as they left the compound, and those who
    came out last were beaten to death. He saw three friends killed.
    “I’ve never
    faced anything like this situation before,” said Soe Min Oo. “I feel
    very sad.”
    Soe Min Oo spoke to
    Reuters in a tiny Muslim village about half an hour outside Meikhtila where he
    was staying with family. During the interview, an official who wouldn’t say who
    he worked for arrived on a motorcycle and demanded names and contact numbers
    from journalists.
    Mandalay chief
    minister Ye Myint denied a Reuters request to visit official camps in his
    region, which includes Meikhtila. Immigration and police officers banned access
    to an unofficial camp in Yindaw, a village about a 45-minute drive from
    (Editing by Andrew
    R.C. Marshall and Robert Birsel)