Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Fresh tensions in Rakhine State, western Myanmar, near the border with Bangladesh, following violent clashes between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority Rohingya in Burma. On the night of October 21 clashes errupted between the two opposing sides in different areas of the town of Min Bya, which continued all day yesterday. The final toll is three dead - two Muslim women - and at least 300 homes burned in several villages in the area. It is the first serious incident since last June, when the authorities declared a state of emergency to stop the violence between Buddhists and Muslims, which has caused dozens of deaths.
For weeks, the Rakhine State was the scene of continual outbreaks of tension, while across the country a fierce campaign was sparked against the Rohingya Muslim minority, the Burmese ethnic group considered "foreign" and deprived of the right of citizenship. Even the "reformer" president Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have yet to take a clear position on the matter, with the Nobel Peace Laureate calling for the implementation of the "rule of law", but without clarifying if the Rohingya are full-fledged citizens of Myanmar.
Throughout the day yesterday several homes were set on fire, in a continuous escalation of violence. At the moment it is not clear what gave rise to clashes with Muslims and Buddhists who are trading accusations of responsibilities. In August, the Burmese authorities formed a commission of inquiry to verify the facts of what occurred in the previous weeks, while rejecting the idea of relying on feedback from a survey carried out by experts of the United Nations. Among other things, Naypyidaw has stopped and arrested a group of aid workers belonging to the UN and international human rights organizations.
In June, the District Court Kyaukphyu in the State of Rakhine sentenced three Muslims, deemed responsible for the rape and killing in late May of Thida Htwe, a young Buddhist Arakanese, which was the source of violent sectarian clashes between Muslims and Buddhists ( cf. AsiaNews 19/06/2012 Rakhine, ethnic violence: three death sentences for the rape-murder of a woman). In the following days, an angry crowd, killed 10 Muslims entirely unconnected with the incident. The spiral of hatred has caused the death of 29 others, including 16 Muslims and 13 Buddhists. According to official sources at least 2,600 homes were set alight, while hundreds of Rohingya refugees have sought refuge abroad.
The climate of tension in the area is being fomented by appeals in the last hours by a group of Burmese monks of the State of Rakhine to target Rohingya "sympathizers", labeling them as "traitors". In a document released by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), the All-Arakanese Monks' Solidarity Conference is inviting locals to disseminate images of those who support the Muslim minority, in fact legitimizing personal violence and targeted attacks that are likely to exacerbate the conflict. The report also puts forward in ten points the birth of a Safety Committee chaired by Buddhist monks, required to ensure compliance with the law and discipline, as well as "the spread of religion." A sort of moral police, along the lines of paramilitary forces found in many Islamic countries, like Saudi Arabia or Iran.