Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The District Court of Kyaukphyu, in Rakhine State in western Myanmar, has sentenced to death three Muslim men, held responsible for the rape and killing of Thida Htwe; the death of the young Arakanese Buddhist at the end of May was the start of the violent sectarian clashes in the Muslim-Buddhist region, which have left at least 50 dead, thousands of houses burnt and have caused the flight of hundreds of refugees from the Rohingya Muslim minority to the coasts of Bangladesh. However, the government in Dhaka has adopted a strict policy of rejection towards the refugees (pictured): yesterday, too, about 130 Burmese Rohingya were seized, placed under judicial detention for interrogation, and later transported away in the direction of Burma. The total number of expulsions or arrests, since the beginning of the violence in the state, exceeds two thousand.
The dissident website Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reported that yesterday the district judge has found guilty of rape, murder and theft Htet Htet (better known as Rawshe), Mahmud Rawphi (nicknamed Hla Win) and Khochi (whose full name is Myint Swe). On May 28 the three attacked the young Rakhine Buddhist Thida Htwe, from the village of Thabyaychaung in the town of Ramee, as she was returning home. The Court relied on the testimony of eight people, including the brother of the victim.
Htet Htet, suspected of masterminding the attack which resulted in the rape-murder, committed suicide last week, while he was in prison. The jury wanted to convict him anyway, issuing a posthumous judgment, in accordance with the Burmese Penal Code. Much of the public is satisfied with the rapidity of the procedure and the fact that the perpetrators have been convicted. However, members of civil society and representatives of human rights organizations are wary of the judgment and hope for a more thorough investigation to prevent cases of summary justice. The two men now have a week to appeal the judgment; the matter must still be examined by the Supreme Court for a final verdict. According to law experts, it is "very unlikely" that the death penalty will really be applied, given that in Myanmar there have been no executions since 1988.
In the days following the rape and murder of the woman, an angry mob attacked some Muslims who were traveling on a bus and were totally unconnected with the crime; 10 Muslims were killed. The spiral of hatred has resulted in a real guerrilla war, which continued in the following days and caused the deaths of 29 others, including 16 Muslims and 13 Buddhists; another 38 were wounded. According to official sources, at least 2,600 homes have been burnt. Aung San Suu Kyi, in Europe for an official tour, also spoke of the tension between the Buddhists of Arakan and the Rohingya Muslims: the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) insisted on the need for the "rule of law", to which all citizens must conform. And she added that there should be "responsible" surveillance along the border between Burma and Bangladesh.
Myanmar is composed of more than 135 ethnic groups, who have always found it difficult to live together; in the past, the military junta has used an iron fist against the most rebellious. Myanmar Muslims constitute about 4% of a population of 60 million people. The UN says there are 750,000 Rohingyas in the country, concentrated mainly in Rakhine State. Another million or more are scattered in other countries: Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia. The state of emergency is the first exceptional measure of Thein Sein, president for over a year, who is ferrying the country from a military dictatorship to an at least minimal democracy.