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Fear, loathing and lies in Rakhine state
By Story and Photos By Carlos Sardia Galache –Universidad Complutense de Madrid Alumnus.
Rohingya in the region are confined to designated areas while all around them monks and authorities stoke anti-Muslim sentiment. And this disdain for the group seems to be receiving the tacit approval of the majority of Myanmar people — with even Aung San Suu Kyi silent
Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in Western Myanmar, has become a city full of stray dogs. Hundreds of them roam the streets abandoned by their owners, who were among the thousands forced to take refuge in camps for internally displaced people or otherwise relocate after a murderous wave of sectarian violence between the Buddhist Rakhine majority and the Muslim Rohingya minority erupted in the region two months ago.
The violence started after it was reported on May 28 that a 26 year-old Buddhist woman had been raped and killed by Muslim men. Three Muslim men were detained the following day. The case lit the fuse for communal violence in the area and on June 3 about 300 Buddhists attacked a bus in Taunggup, killing 10 Muslim men, reportedly in front of policemen and soldiers who did not intervene.
It is difficult to determine exactly what happened next as there were no independent observers in the area and most people involved claim to have acted in self-defence, but within one week the state was plunged into in an orgy of violence that saw both Rakhine and Rohingya mobs torching houses and committing horrific acts ofviolence against one another.
According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, security forces stood idly by at the outset of the violence before they began shooting at the Rohingya. At one point the conflict even threatened to spread to the rest of the country, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency in Rakhine State. Official estimates put the overall death toll at 78, a gross underestimate in the opinion of several human rights groups. Thousands of Rohingya refugees tried to flee to Bangladesh, only to be blocked, and sometimes shot, by Bangladeshi security forces. Now there are around 70,000 displaced people in the region, most of them Rohingya living in villages or camps around Sittwe, but also Rakhine people, mainly sheltered in Buddhist monastery camps.
‘‘ The problem are these Rohingya foreigners and we have to contain them one way or another; something like what happened in the United States during World War II — U WIN TIN, FOUNDING MEMBER OF NLD
‘‘ There is no organisation trying to establish a Rohingya state. We are only looking for ethnicity and to qualify for Citizenship. ABU TAHAY