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Ethnic tensions continue to broil in Myanmar

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 15th, 2012
Catholic Online (

In Myanmar, the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya have engaged in retaliatory attacks over the past few days in the nation's northwest Rakhine state. Dozens of people have been killed in fighting over the past two months. Entire villages have been burned down to the ground by angry mobs armed with knives and metal poles.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Narze quarter of the capital of Sittwe has become a ghost town following the evacuation of the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya groups.

Refugee camps and villages are estimated to be housing 70,000 people, according to police Lieutenant Colonel Myo Min Aung.

Tensions between the two groups arose following the alleged rape of a Buddhist woman in addition to the retribution killing of ten Muslims. The death toll between the Rakhine and Rohingya clans has risen to 78. But that is widely believed to be grossly underestimated.

The Rohingya tribes have suffered discrimination for generations in Myanmar. About 800,000 of the Muslim group are denied citizenship under a law passed 30 years ago.

Bikes, scooters and tuk-tuks proceed slowly through Sittwe. Myo Min Aung's police battalion, deployed to Sittwe from Yangon after local police were accused of being "anti-Muslim" are patrolling the area separating Rakhine and Rohingya settlements.

There is a growing humanitarian crisis here that few outsiders have been able to see. On the outskirts of town, about 50,000 Rohingya are residing in a cluster of camps and villages.

The Kaung Dokar Refugee Camp is one of six official shelters for Rohingya in Sittwe Township, described as a no man's land of rationed food, boredom, and days ended by a 6 p.m. curfew.

"I want to go home because when it rains here in the camp, the water rises up," Rezu Mar Bibi, a young woman who speaks as a crowd of onlookers pushes closer to hear. "If I can't go back home, I want to go to another country."

Food rations of rice, beans and oil are not enough, camp refugees say, a claim confirmed by Myo Min Aung who is tasked with ensuring that what little food arrives does so safely.

Some of the complaints by the Rohingya are echoed by the 20,000 Rakhine refugees sheltering in the area's Buddhist monasteries.

A Rakhine fisherwoman, when asked if Rakhine and Rohingya can live together in the future, says it's unthinkable. "It's not possible because these people are very cruel," she says, voicing fears that Rohingya from other countries could come and "cause more trouble."

Many people in Myanmar refer to Rohingya as "Bengalis" or "guests." Some believe they are Bangladeshis who have illegally paid to enter Myanmar through the porous border.


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