Maw: Stranded beside their decrepit flotilla of wooden
boats, on a muddy beach far from home, the Muslim refugees tell
story after terrifying story of their exodus from a once-peaceful
town on Myanmar’s western coast, The Associated Press reported.
They were attacked one quiet evening, they say, by Buddhist mobs
determined to expel them from the island port of Kyaukphyu. There
were chaotic clashes and gruesome killings, and a wave of arson
strikes so intense that flames eventually engulfed their entire
neighborhood. In the end, all they could do was run. So they piled
into 70 or 80 fishing boats — some 4,000 souls in all — and fled
into the sea.
In those final moments, many caught one last dizzying glimpse of
the town they grew up in — of a sky darkened by smoke billowing
from a horizon of burning homes, of beaches filled with seething
Buddhist throngs who had spent the day pelting their departing
boats with slingshot-fired iron darts.
The October 24 exodus was
part of a wave of violence that has shaken western Myanmar twice
in the last six months. Although many Rohingya have lived here for
generations, they are widely seen as illegal immigrants from
Bangladesh and most are denied citizenship.
Similar mass expulsions have happened twice before under the
country’s former army rulers. But the fact that they are occurring
again now, during Myanmar’s much-praised transition to democratic
rule, is particularly troubling.
Both reformist President Thein
Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace
Prize laureate, have condemned the violence. Yet neither has
defended the Rohingya, even though Muslims account for roughly
two-thirds of the 200 dead, 95 percent of the 115,000 displaced
and 90 percent of the homes destroyed so far, according to
Kyaukphyu was significant because those expelled from there
included another Muslim minority, the Kaman, whose right to
citizenship is recognized. That they too were targeted raises
fears the conflict is spreading to Myanmar’s wider 4 percent
“We never thought this could happen to us,” said Kyaw Thein, a 48-year-old Kaman who fled Kyaukphyu and is now a
refugee in the island village of Sin Thet Maw. “We don’t feel safe
anymore, even here,” he said. “Who says we won’t be attacked
Hla Win, a 23-year-old mother of two, was eating a dinner of fish
curry and rice with her family when she heard shouting outside. It
was 7 p.m., and the attacks had begun on East Pikesake district,
where most of Kyaukphyu’s Muslim fishing community lives. Her
husband, a 26-year-old fisherman named Maung Lay, joined a group
of men struggling to douse flames leaping from a mosque with
plastic buckets of water. Security forces posted nearby ordered
them to move back, and one opened fire, killing Maung Lay,
according to several witnesses.
Rare amateur video of that night, seen by The Associated Press,
shows Buddhist mobs armed with long sticks or spears and hurling
jars of burning gasoline toward homes swamped in bright orange
flames as men shout in the darkness: “Throw! Throw!” and “Watch
In another clip, attackers can be seen flinging firebombs
over a wall into more burning houses. They crouch behind
rectangular shields of corrugated iron sheeting which are being
pelted with rocks, presumably by Muslims defending themselves.
As the night wore on, the adversaries wrapped bandannas around
their foreheads — red for Buddhists, white for Muslims.
Buddhists say the Muslims are
foreigners who came to seize land and spread the Islamic faith.
Muslims say they settled here long ago, legally, and suffer