Myanmar cops didn't stop attackers: victims
By Robin Mcdowell, APTHANDWE, Myanmar -- Even as the president came to western Myanmar to urge an end to sectarian violence last week, security forces could not prevent Buddhist mobs from torching the homes of minority Muslims or hacking them to death, at times, unwittingly, even encouraging them.
October 7, 2013, 12:06 am TWN
That has raised questions about the government's ability to quench a virulent strain of religious hatred blamed for the deaths of more than 240 people in the last 18 months.
Five Muslims were killed in the attack Tuesday in Thandwe township, just hours before President Thein Sein touched down for a scheduled visit.
He promised an immediate investigation and, with uncharacteristic speed, state-run media by Saturday night said 44 suspects had been arrested, though few other details were released.
Still, as soldiers walked the dusty streets in the hardest-hit village of Thabyuchaing, semi-automatics slung across their shoulders, Myint Aung and other Muslims residents were afraid.
They said authorities had plenty of opportunities to prevent a series of attacks Tuesday, each more brutal than the next, but did nothing. More than 110 homes were burned to the ground, and nearly 500 people were left homeless.
Initially, the Buddhist mobs numbering about 150 entered before dawn, setting one house on fire, but Muslim residents were able to push them back, said the 52-year-old, standing before a charred mosque and several homes.
Police detained three suspects soon after, but released them almost immediately following threats of more violence, he said.
Though police promised the Muslims villagers protection — and disarmed them and ordered them back into their homes — the mobs returned in even greater numbers at 9:30 a.m., and then again at 2:30 p.m.
Among the dead were a 94-year-old woman and an 89-year-old man, both too old to run, each with multiple stab wounds.
“We had no way to protect ourselves,” said Win Myint, 51, another resident, standing in front of his demolished home, echoing complaints heard by victims in other attacks across the state.
“And the police did nothing. They just looked on. Now everyone is living in fear now.”
In an interview with Associated Press in New York, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin denied the charges that law enforcement or government troops failed to take necessary action.
There was more sectarian violence in Myanmar late Saturday, this time in the southern delta region, with police and residents saying Buddhist mobs destroyed a pair of Muslim homes. It was the first time sectarian unrest was reported in the area since the violence started in June 2012.
The violence in the town of Kyaunggon, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of the main city of Yangon, came after news spread that a 14-year-old girl had allegedly been raped by a Muslim man. Kyaunggon resident Myint Soe said mobs destroyed the rape suspect's home, as well as the home of another Muslim man elsewhere in the town. Police confirmed the violence and said Kyauggon was calm Sunday.
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, is undergoing a mind-boggling political transformation after a half-century of brutal military rule.
But greater freedoms of expression have had a dark side, exposing deep-seated hatred toward Muslims that, fueled by radical monks, have ignited attacks first in western Rakhine state and then from Meikhtila in the country's center to Lashio near the Chinese border.
'Failed to do their job properly'