Police crack down on anti-Muslim radicals in Myanmar
Bangkok: Police in Myanmar have moved to arrest ultra-nationalists backed by Buddhist monks amid a resurgence of mob violence aimed at the country’s Muslim minority.
While international attention has focussed on atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine State, attacks on Muslims in other parts of the country, including the former capital, Yangon, point to a resurgence of wider anti-Muslim vehemence 13 months after the government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi took office.
Police have arrested two nationalists and are seeking more after a mob led by the Patriotic Monks Union raided flats in a Yangon district with a large Muslim population, igniting scuffles that were only broken up when police fired shots in the air, Reuters reported.
In late April protesters forced the closure of two Islamic schools in Yangon, claiming they were illegal mosques.
Police stood by while journalists covering the protest were harassed and threatened.
A Yangon court has issued arrest warrants against seven people, including two monks, charging them with inciting communal violence, which carries punishment of up to two years jail.
Brigadier-General Mya Win, commander of Yangon’s regional police security command, said extra security forces had been deployed and police were on high alert to prevent communal violence.
“We are patrolling around Muslim areas and have taken security measures around places of worship,” he said.
Fear spread through Myanmar’s Muslims in January when prominent Muslim lawyer Ko Ni was assassinated outside Yangon’s busy international airport.
Until recently Ms Suu Kyi’s government had been criticised for failing to crack down on anti-Muslim groups stoking violence.
But in March the country’s top Buddhist body banned Wirathu, a radical monk who had for years fanned the flames of religious chauvinism.
Wirathu is linked to the ultra-nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement that openly campaigned against Ms Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy at elections in 2015.
Wirathu – who once called himself the “Burmese bin Laden” travelled to Rakhine in early May, where Rohingya were targeted in a brutal crackdown after attacks on several police border posts last October, United Nations investigators say.
The UN documented atrocities, including against babies, in the state that it said could amount to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Ms Suu Kyi’s government and the country’s powerful military are refusing to cooperate with a UN fact-finding mission into the violence.
More than 70,000 of 1.1 million Rohingya, who have been living in Rakhine for generations, have fled to squalid refugee camps at the Bangladesh border.
Myanmar denies those living in Rakhine basic rights such as citizenship and freedom of movement.
More than 2.3 million Muslims, or about 4.6 per cent of the population, live in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.