Physicians group blames government for Myanmar religious strife

(RNS) Buddhists are killing Muslims in Myanmar with impunity because the government failed to stop the attacks, New York-based Physicians for Human Rights reported amid fresh assaults that left more Muslims homeless.

During the past year, scattered clashes across Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma, have left more than 240 people dead, most of them Muslims.

Photo from Meiktila, Mandalay

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Photo from Meiktila, Mandalay Photo courtesy Ken Marshall via Flickr


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A mob of about 1,000 Buddhists burned more than 35 Muslim homes and a dozen shops on August 24 in Kanbalu in Myanmar’s central Sagaing Division after hearing rumors that a Muslim man sexually assaulted a young Buddhist woman, police told The Associated Press.

Police arrested a male Muslim suspect but refused the mob’s demand to hand him over, sparking its arson attack against his innocent Muslim neighbors, police said. The fires also destroyed a mosque.

“The Burmese government must make a concerted effort to allow an effective investigation into these abuses and hold perpetrators accountable,” the physicians group wrote in its report.

More ominously, the report concluded: “While such massacres are not sweeping the country at present, the brazen nature of these crimes and the widespread culture of impunity in which these massacres occur form deeply troubling preconditions that make such crimes very likely to continue.

“If these conditions go unaddressed, Burma may very well face countrywide violence on a catastrophic level, including potential crimes against humanity and/or genocide.”

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights, Tomas Quintana, investigated Buddhist attacks against Muslims in another central town — Meiktila, in Mandalay Division — during a 10-day trip that ended on August 21.

Residents accused Quintana of bias against Buddhists involved in the Meiktila clashes, which occurred in March, and the government denied his claims.

Quintana’s experience gave him “an insight into the fear residents felt when being chased down by violent mobs.” Police allegedly stood by as angry mobs beat, stabbed and burned to death 43 people, he said.

Rakhine state’s Muslims describe themselves as citizens who are persecuted because they are minority ethnic Rohingya competing with Buddhists in the impoverished region.

Buddhist militants and the government insist the Rohingya are not citizens but instead are Muslim ethnic Bengalis who have illegally migrated from neighboring Bangladesh during past decades.

When Buddhists rampage and torch Muslims’ homes and businesses, driving them off their land, there are “multiple instances where police and/or the army attacked Rohingyas and other Muslims, or watched as they were attacked, instead of protecting them,” the physicians’ report said.

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