It is hugely evident that racial and religious discrimination against Muslims is not just a regional problem confined to Arakan. Rioting and wanton attacks have now been reported to have swept the city of Meikhtila. Although the violence started from a market squabble in a jewellery shop, the concurrent attacks were focused directly towards the Muslim population in the city, located in the Mandalay division of Myanmar/Burma. Our sources have stated that yet more attacks are further spurring fear that "concentrated attacks against the Muslims" in other regions will lead to a "nationwide massacre of the Muslims" in the country.
On Wednesday (20th March) morning, the market squabble began as three Buddhist men attempted to pawn fake gold, but were refused by the muslim shop owner. After suffering endless abuse, the shop owner defended himself and hit one of the Buddhist men. In under an hour, a crowd had gathered around the shop, attacking and throwing stones. The shop owner is said to now be in police custody.
From a feeble quarrel the violence escalated to a night of endless terror for the Muslims of Meikhtila, an area where they live comfortably and prosper- many Muslims owning their own businesses and properties. That night, Buddhist mobs had vilified businesses and homes owned by Muslims and at least 8 mosques were burnt to the ground. As President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency by 10pm that night, the realities are that, once again, as in Arakan last year and even now, a brutal style of martial law will simply aid opportunistic aggressors, leaving the vulnerable to flee or risk attack and destruction.
The state figures had first reported that 8 lives were lost and this then increased to 20. However our sources have confirmed that at least 400 people have died since the violence started, just 2 days ago. Many of the dead are said to be students of the local Islamic schools, as many as 28 students and 4 teachers were killed in one madrassa. In the southern area of Meikhtila, an Islamic school was burnt down and the school keeper beaten to death. Many of the coordinated attacks are said to have been carried out by a Buddhist extremist group called ‘969’. They are said to "follow the racist ideology of an extremist monk by the name of Wi Ra Thu", one source stating that "Monks here are above the law".
A total of 1300 are now stuck in a football field in the centre of Meikhtila which many are already referring to as another refugee camp, deprived of food and water. Just a few hours ago we communicated with a young woman named Fahmida, who is currently in the football field. Her voice strained and struggling to speak, she kept repeating in urdu: "Help us, help us, we have no food, we need your help".
Amongst the terror, there was a glimmer of hope. A source had informed us that a Muslim man had luckily received help from a monk who had allowed him to hide in the monastry during the violence. However safety in the monastry was not guaranteed as he feared getting caught. Now he is hiding and stranded in the forest areas with no place safe to go. The full conversation in Burmese can be found here.
Our sources have further reported that the violence in the area has calmed today from what they know, as all roads leading in and out of Meikhtila have been blocked.
Consequently Muslims cannot leave the area and checkpoints have been set up to ensure this, with extremists guarding them sparing no one who attempts to flee.
As more homes have been razed to the ground and more people killed or forced to flee, a repeat of Arakan’s violence and current dire state is only inevitable.Terror will only continue and like the Rohingya, the Muslims of Meikhtila will be made refugees in their own homeland. Notably the authorities are failing in protecting the most vulnerable of Burmese society, the ethnic minorities and majoritively the Muslim community. So long as they are denied citizenship in their own homeland, the state continues to escape responsibility in protecting the group as citizens. Lawful democratic reform would ensure equality and rights owed to the Muslim community, yet it is apparent that this is far from the agenda at play.