ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JULY 7 AND THEREAFTER – In
this May 25, 2013 photo, partially burned Islamic religious books rest among
the debris of Himayathul Islamic Boarding School in the Mingalar Zayone
neighborhood of Meikhtila, Myanmar. On one of the country’s single darkest days
since its post-junta leaders promised the dawn of a new, democratic era two
years ago, 36 Muslims, most of them teenagers, were slaughtered there on March
21, 2013, before the eyes of police and local officials who did almost nothing
to stop it. Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe ______________________________________________________________
earth across a hillside overlooking the wrecked Islamic boarding school they
once called home.
staves attackers used to beat dozens of people to the ground before drowning
their still-twitching bodies in gasoline and burning them alive.
monk. The victims were Muslims who had nothing to do with it — students and
teachers from a prestigious Islamic school in central Myanmar who came
so close to being saved. In the last hours of their lives, they only had to
make it a few hundred steps to four police trucks waiting on a hill above.
since this Southeast Asian country’s post-junta leaders promised the dawn of a
new, democratic era two years ago — a day on which 36 Muslims, most of them
teenagers, were slaughtered before the eyes of police and local officials who
did almost nothing to stop it.
has been for a neglected religious minority that has received neither
protection nor justice.
Meikhtila to mourn the dead. Police never roped this place off to collect
evidence of the carnage left behind on these slopes. And despite video clips
that show mobs clubbing students to death and cheering, not a single suspect
has been convicted so far.
Buddhist mobs and paves the way for more violence. It also reflects the reality
that despite Myanmar’s bid to reform, power remains concentrated in the hands
of an ethnic Burman, Buddhist elite that dominates all branches of government.
Buddhists can enjoy,” says Thida, whose husband was slain in Meikhtila.
Like other survivors, she asked to be identified by one name only for fear of
retribution. “We know there is no such thing as justice for Muslims.”
story of the March 21 massacre from the accounts of 10 witnesses, including
seven survivors who only agreed to meet outside their homes for security
reasons. The AP cross-checked their testimony against video clips taken by private
citizens, many with the date and time embedded; public media footage; dozens of
photos; a site inspection, and information from local officials.
Meikhtila — with a call to prayer echoing through the darkness before dawn.
rising from a sea of mats spread across a vast dormitory.
between a Muslim gold merchant and a Buddhist client, which had prompted a
crowd of hundreds to overrun the shop and set it ablaze.
burned him to death. Buddhist mobs in turn torched 12 out of 13 of the city’s
mosques and businesses owned by Muslims, who made up about a third of
Meikhtila’s 100,000 inhabitants.
second floor and gazed out of the windows in shock at the black and gray
columns of smoke.
to the all-male madrassa and took the headmaster aside.
“The mobs are coming — tonight.”
valuables and their money, remove their head caps and Islamic dress and prepare
to leave. He never explained why. He didn’t have to.
them,” he said. “But whatever happens, we will not let you die.”
the Wat Hlan Taw. Most of the 150 refugees were students and teachers, but two
dozen women and children were among them.
madrassa and then inside. The mobs kicked in doors, smashed windows and set the
place on fire.
stomach ailment reached for his wife’s palm and squeezed it hard.
won’t be able to run.”
3-year-old son in her arms. “We’ll be together, every step.”
flashlights into the Wat Hlan Taw, screaming, “Come out, Kalars!” — a
derogatory word for Muslims.
businessman, the mobs were not far behind.
few seconds too long to run.
and realized they were trapped.
Hundreds more were gathering on a road running across a huge embankment that
shadowed the neighborhood’s western edge.
Others scoured the property for wooden boards and rocks to defend themselves.
of helmeted riot police equipped with rifles and gray shields. They had formed
lines to keep the Buddhist hordes away from the Muslims.
five more students out of the bush, one by one, and bludgeoned them to death.
Stone-faced police officers stood idle just steps away.
threatened him. An officer advised him to leave.
Muslims on foot to police vehicles on top of the embankment.
must stop chanting. They must put down their weapons” — their sticks and
out. The crowds were flinging long bamboo staves wrapped with burning fabric
over the fence like giant matchsticks, and the compound was on fire.
prisoners of war.
its own set of macabre rules: Do not run, or they will chase you. Do not fall,
or you may never get back up. Do not stop, or you may die.
anyway, clubbing a student across the forehead with a hoe and knocking a
teacher to the ground. One officer, struck in the face by a rock, apparently by
accident, shot a Buddhist man in the leg.
Muslims to squat down.
heads and press their hands together in prayer like Buddhists.
them go first. When Thida refused to let go of her husband, a Buddhist man
shoved a palm in his face and forced them apart.
the hill toward the trucks. But even as they ascended, other Buddhists hacked a
17-year-old student to death on the edge of the Wat Hlan Taw, striking him 24
times. One of the attackers was a monk.
the embankment. “The police are heading down there, but they aren’t doing
to where she waited anxiously beside police, anxiously.
Don’t leave any of them behind!”
run. They beat two of them, along with a teacher, to the ground with daggers
and sticks. Police stood on both sides of the hill watching, unmoved.
the killing to stop, the crowds backed away briefly.
Muslim men as they lay crumpled on the ground beneath a grove of rain trees.
One of them is Shafee.
charred corpses in the same spot as crowds cheer.
standing beside her.
happening to us?”
you can die here, too?”
remaining Muslims to the hilltop and load them onto the trucks. The survivors
were driven to a police station where they were offered water, and by at least
one officer, an apology.
which would have been no match for the crude weapons carried by the mobs. But
while they rescued around 120 Muslims, they did not stop the massacre of 32
students and four teachers, according to the headmaster, who cross-checked
their deaths with families and witnesses.
touring the area after the killings, show at least 28 dead bodies, the fists
and arms of the blackened corpses reaching into the air.
order from above (to shoot), or they got the order from above not to do
fire, but police held back because doing so could have “made the situation
outnumbered them. Muslims died because “some of them tried to run,”
them,” he said. “They had to take care of the rest of the people they
were guarding. … that’s why there were casualties.”
the dead because they were too badly burned to be identified. But families of
those slain say they were never even asked, and never given the chance to bury
their loved ones according to Islamic rites.
Buddhist mobs. The first were Muslims.
14-year jail terms for theft and causing grievous bodily harm.
two years to life for their roles in the killing of the monk on March 20, the
day the unrest began.
charged and are on trial for the Mingalar Zayone killings, some for murder, but
none has yet been convicted.
proceeding with the trials and have no prejudice or bias against any
residents of Meikhtila, but he gave no other details.
together again and rebuilding his school elsewhere.
“because we know that nobody else will.”