More From Alder's Ledge

March 24, 2013

Meikhtila Riots Illustrates Burma's Failures

Where Is Thein Sein's Democracy?
(part of The Darkness Visible series)

(Helpless and Homeless)

On Saturday afternoon the Myanmar military finally gained control of a burnt out and devastated city center. The city of Meikhtila had become a pile of rubble and burnt out timber. Cars sat like carcasses along the roadside as the military drove past. Refugees carried what little they had left on their backs as they dared not look at the soldiers. Only the Buddhists monks wielding weapons bothered to greet the military. 

When cleanup began the military reported that they had uncovered 32 dead and were tending to wounded and displaced Muslims. Once the 6,000 plus Muslims who had fled to a sports stadium were evacuated to safety the military secured the burnt out city. Taking up positions at banks and "valuable infrastructure" the military began patrols to keep the peace. 

(The Hallmark Of The Ethnic Violence)

For months the Buddhists have been pumping propaganda into areas like Meikhtila. They have used the plight of the Rohingya in the Arakan state to justify these attacks on other Muslim minorities. Their goal has been to create an ethnically pure Myanmar with one religion. And yet the pogroms have been successful due to the lack of protection the religious minorities in Burma receive.

This incredible amount of hatred was not only evident in the shear amount of Muslim's left homeless but also by the methods used to attack them. The Buddhists mobs were armed with machetes and hammers thus leaving their victims either hacked to pieces or beaten savagely. The homes and businesses that were burnt were torched so as to leave the Muslims no place in Meikhtila to call home. And the mosque that were razed had been hiding places for many of the Muslims fleeing the initial waves of Buddhists assailants. 

As the smoke clears the Muslims of Meikhtila are left with the horrible decision of whether they should flee to the military protected refugee camps or attempt to salvage their homes. For many it is hard to imagine that the Burmese military will protect them in the camps if the Monks decided to use the camps as ghettos like they did in Arakan. For those who dare stay the threat of death is more immediate. 

Thein Sein had promised to make Myanmar into a democracy. He had said that this would be a modern state where all of Burma's citizens would have a voice. Yet Meikhtila shows the weakness or unwillingness of the ex-general when it comes to protecting Muslims. It once again illustrates the desire on the part of the Burmese government to create a society in which tolerance has clear and concise limits. Thein Sein's version of democracy is thus clearly a form in which liberty is prisoner to the whims of the state. 

(Mother And Baby Now Homeless)

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