Myanmar imposes curfew on more towns amid unrest fears
YANGON MYANMAR on Sunday imposed curfews in major towns across western Rakhine state, official media reported, amid fears of further unrest following an eruption of deadly sectarian violence.
Television and radio reports said the situation was calm after police and the army stepped in to control rioting on Friday and Saturday that saw hundreds of Buddhist villagers’ homes set ablaze and left seven dead in the state, which borders Bangladesh.
The unrest threatens to undermine the reforms of Myanmar’s new government, which took power last year following decades of outright military rule.
“Some people are trying to harm public safety and rule of law. We believe there could be some clashes,” state media said announcing the curfew, which covers the state capital Sittwe and three other towns, and runs for 12 hours from 6:00 pm (1130 GMT).
Groups of more than five people are banned, as are “giving speeches, marching and inciting unrest or any clashes”, the reports said.
Rakhine state is named for its dominant, mostly Buddhist ethnic group but is also home to a large Muslim population including the Rohingya, a stateless people described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya as foreigners and not one of the nation’s ethnic groups, while many citizens see them as them illegal immigrants and view them with hostility.
A cycle of apparent revenge attacks has gripped the state following the recent rape and murder of a Rakhine woman.
Last Sunday, an angry Buddhist mob mistakenly believing the perpetrators of the rape were on board a bus, beat 10 Muslim passengers to death.
Rioting then flared on Friday when at least four Buddhists were killed in the state, with a second wave of violence in remote villages on Saturday.
Police and military units were deployed to bring an end to the unrest, in which 17 people were also wounded and nearly 500 houses destroyed, according to the official media.
A Sittwe resident who declined to be named said he saw an ethnic Rakhine man stabbed and attempts to torch more homes on Sunday, and a standoff between Rakhine and Rohingya groups near the university in the afternoon.
“If the situation goes like this, there will be no security for the town’s people. We dare not to stay and are afraid of the night time,” the man said.
Accusing the Rohingya of “invading”, he branded the weekend’s unrest as “terrorist”.
On Sunday around 600 ethnic Rakhine gathered at the Shwedagon Pagoda, a revered Buddhist site in the main city of Yangon, demanding “Bengalis” — a term often used for Muslim communities living near the border with Bangladesh — be “removed from Myanmar”.
People held up pictures of burning villages and victims apparently beaten in the attacks as well as banners proclaiming “Save the Rakhine”.
“The fighting harms national security, national interests and the rule of law. This is not only the problem of the country, but also the problem of the whole world,” said Tin Htoo Aung, chairman of the Rakhine National Network activist group.
In an editorial on Sunday, state newspaper New Light of Myanmar warned of “anarchy” and a spiral of retaliation in Rakhine, adding conflict creates “an environment where peace is totally absent and where democracy cannot flourish at all”.
In Bangladesh, authorities said they were stepping up security along the border and in the refugee camps where around 300,000 Rohingya live.