You are on page 1of 2

29 March 2013

Inconsistent Riot Control Policy and Measures: Time to Question the Government
The riots started in Meiktila, a town in central Burma, on 20 March is now spreading to other towns in Bago Region. The police released a report that the nine days of rioting, looting, and destruction left 42 dead and hundreds injured. Furthermore, it stated that thousands of properties including religious buildings and dozens of cars and motorbikes are destroyed. According to the same report, more than 70 have been arrested and questioned relating to these incidents. Although these incidents of mob violence appear as religious conflicts between Buddhist and Muslim, eyewitness reports of the incidents point out a few other possibilities. According to numerous witness accounts, a group of unknown rioters committed brutal attacks against Muslim communities in Meiktila and other towns. However, it is no doubt that a limited number of locals who are heavily influenced by anti-Muslim sentiment also get involved in these assaults. Anti-Muslim movement called 969 Movement produced and disseminated photographs, leaflets, video tapes/CDs and stickers inflaming hatred against Muslims for a few weeks. The riots in Meiktila started in the midst of growing anti-Muslim sentiment that runs across the country. The social media sites such as Facebook have been a powerful communications tool for the spread of such animosity towards the Burmese-Muslim. Despite outrageous promotion of Buddhism, the majority of Burmese Buddhist stayed away from committing such barbaric attacks against Muslim by strictly practicing the Buddhist teachings of loving kindness, compassion and tolerance. During the riots, many Buddhist locals including the monks and civil society groups such as Student Unions provide medicine, food, and any other necessary assistance to displaced Muslim communities. There are certain unusual and suspicious incidents that local residents noticed during the violence. According to witnesses, a group of strangers including monks who are believed to be aggressors impersonating as Buddhist monks - wielding weapons, roaming the streets, and wreaking havoc on both Muslim and Buddhist properties. Reportedly, there were power cuts including the phone lines in towns just before the rioters came in and ransacking and damaging the properties. Whenever there is a chance, the mob attacks both the Muslim and the Buddhist indiscriminately. However, the number of casualties and damages that Muslim community suffers seem to be higher than the Buddhist community in all these towns affected by the violence. The locals in Meiktila and other areas blame the police and security forces for their failures to control the riots effectively. Quite contrary to police crackdowns against anti-copper mine protesters in Letpadaung area and a stand-off between a group of farmers and the police near Maubin in Irrawaddy delta, the police have not taken similar measures against violent mobs who have committed killings, lootings and damaging private properties. The police used white phosphorus filled grenades against anti-copper mine protesters in

November last year. Dozens of Buddhist monks were inflicted with severe burn and scald injuries. Again in February this year, farmers in a village near Maubin Township were shot and severely beaten by the police during the clash. Video footage of two female bystanders who were brutally beaten by the riot police was later spread on the internet. Comparing with the way the police handled the situations in Ledpadaung area and the protest near Maubin, the police failed to take effective actions against the rioters who carried out destructive activities. The police did not use either water cannons or baton charges to disperse the rioters, several witnesses claimed. In Burma, electricity and landline phones are provided by the government and every single town have a power station and Telephone Exchange which are manned 24 hours. Therefore, it is utterly unusual that power cuts happen minutes before these riots break out. All these disturbances seem to be systematically organised and committed by an unknown group. Their activities are quite similar to those of flash mobs. However, instead of gathering at a designated location through communications via internet, members of unknown mob contacts each other via mobile phones a number of witnesses claimed that the attackers used handheld transceivers to commit the violence and move from one place to another. A few observers are speculating that all these violent incidents reflect the massacre of ten Muslims in Rakhine state last year and the Depayin incident in 2003 which the opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters were ambushed. This unknown mob is, therefore, thought to be well-trained to carry out such activities for a hidden political agenda, certain analysts concluded. Whether ongoing violence committed by a well-trained group is to create a pretext for the return of military rule or promote the image of military as the only capable force that can bring peace and security to the people, the government must use effective measures to contain the violence, ensuring peace and stability across the country. Nevertheless, if the authorities continue failing to provide security and safety to the general public regardless of race and religion, the government must explain its failures. It is a disgrace for the government being not able to stop the violence from spreading to other cities and towns even after the military stepped in and curfews imposed in Meiktila. We strongly condemn the violence that is still unstoppable due to inadequate measures taken by the police and security forces. We call for the government to explain the inconsistent policy and measures of riot control his government practiced during the incidents at Letpadaung anti-copper mine protests, farmers protests in Maubin Township and the latest rounds of deadly and devastating violence in Meiktila and a few towns in Bago Region.

Burma Independence Advocates Park House 111 Uxbridge Road Ealing London United Kingdom W5 5LB