Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Emergency Declared in a Myanmar State

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Emergency Declared in a Myanmar State

Article excerpt

Myanmar on Sunday declared a state of emergency in a western state where at least 17 people have been killed this month in sectarian attacks.

Myanmar on Sunday declared a state of emergency in a western state where at least 17 people have been killed this month in sectarian attacks.

The violence is the latest reminder of the difficulties confronting the government of President Thein Sein as he attempts to open up the country and steer it toward democracy.

Troops and riot police officers are attempting to restore order in villages where Buddhists and Muslims have clashed, leaving scores injured and 500 homes burned on Friday and Saturday alone. Four people were injured in clashes on Sunday, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Thein Sein, a former general, announced the state of emergency on national television Sunday evening. It was unclear what the practical consequences of emergency rule would be; the military and police in Myanmar already wield significant power despite the country's move toward democracy.

Mr. Thein Sein has made national reconciliation between the Burmese majority and the country's patchwork of ethnic groups a priority of his presidency.

But the tensions near the Bangladeshi border fall outside the scope of reconciliation efforts because they involve people from a Muslim ethnic group, the Rohingya, that the government does not recognize as citizens.

Tensions in the area had been building for several months, according to Chris Lewa, an expert on the Rohingya who has championed their cause.

The Myanmar government has not proposed a solution to the problems of the 800,000 Rohingya, who live in conditions that resemble refugee camps and are one of the largest groups of stateless people in Asia.

There are fears inside Myanmar that the clashes could widen into a broader religious conflict. In recent days, Buddhist and Muslim groups have held relatively small separate protests in Myanmar's main city, Yangon.

In one sign that passions are running high, the Web site of Eleven Media Group, publisher of one of the country's leading weekly newspapers, displayed a string of hateful comments from readers toward Muslims.

"Terrorist is terrorist," wrote one reader who signed in as Maungpho. "Just kill them."

U Ko Ko Gyi, a former political prisoner who is helping to lead efforts to reduce religious tensions, said he was concerned by the "emotional response" to the clashes. "We have to calm down and find an intellectual solution to the problem," he said.

Muslim leaders have urged calm in recent days and the National League for Democracy, the party of the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, issued a statement on Saturday calling on the government restore order. An estimated 90 percent of Myanmar is Buddhist, with Muslims making up around 4 percent. …

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