Myanmar state media yesterday warned of “anarchy” and a spiral of retaliation after a spate of deadly sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims that threatens to overshadow reforms in the nation.
The New Light of Myanmar urged people to exercise “tolerance” in the wake of rioting on Friday and Saturday that saw hundreds of Buddhist villagers’ homes set ablaze and left seven dead in Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh.
“Hatred, misunderstanding or any other kind of conflict among the rural people or urbanites serve no one’s interest, but invites retaliation, anarchy, stagnation and lawlessness creating an environment where peace is totally absent and where democracy cannot flourish at all,” the paper said in an editorial.
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 official media.
A cycle of apparent revenge attacks began with rumors about the recent rape and murder of a Rakhine woman.
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.
On Sunday last week, an angry Buddhist mob mistakenly believing the perpetrators of the rape were on board a bus, beat 10 Muslim passengers to death.
The rioting flared on Friday when at least four Buddhists were killed in the area.
A second wave of violence swept through remote villages early on Saturday, as more ethnic Rakhine homes were torched, forcing villagers to flee to temporary shelters in Maungdaw town, according to government officials.
The New Light warned that “deep mistrust” could turn the region into a “cauldron” of misinformation.
“In this situation rumours float well spreading to all corners like the evil knocking every one’s door as a messenger of death and destruction pushing people nowhere but into a circle of retaliations,” the newspaper said.
The government yesterday imposed curfews in major towns across western Rakhine state, official media reported.
Television and radio reports said the situation was calm after police and the army stepped in to control rioting on Friday and Saturday.
“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 6pm.
Groups of more than five people are banned, as are “giving speeches, marching and inciting unrest or any clashes,” the reports said.
Meanwhile, about 600 ethnic Rakhine gathered yesterday at the Shwedagon Pagoda, a revered Buddhist site in 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.
Human Rights Watch expressed “profound concern” on Saturday and said discriminatory government policy had helped stoke tensions between the two groups.