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Day after day terrifying news keep emerging about the ethnic cleansing ongoing in Burma.
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Child’s view of Burma’s horror: The crayon drawings that reveal the trauma of children forced to flee ethnic violence in Myanmar
Drawings by the children of 140,000 Muslim refugees show the level of ethnic violence in Myanmar
Sunday, 26 May 2013
One drawing shows houses on fire, the sky black with smoke. Another portrays gunmen aiming and firing their weapons. All contain images of people fleeing, running, frantically clambering into boats and leaving their homes. They are drawn in crayon by children.
This series of drawings shared with The Independent reveals the trauma of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims. In particular, it reveals the pain of the tens of thousands of children forced to flee ethnic violence and take refuge in hastily constructed camps. Many were killed or else died along the way.
“Our house was set on fire with a petrol. The paramilitary police shot at people escaping,” a 15-year-old called S, from Narzi village, told an aid-worker. [For security reasons, the children’s full names are not being used.]
“A Buddhist monk cut the arm off a Muslim who was escaping. Police and Rakhine fired guns, cut with swords, kicked, used catapults and bows and arrows to kill. It was very hot.”
There are anywhere up to 140,000 Rohingya Muslims scattered in a series of camps in Burma’s Rakhine state near the city of Sittwe. They fled there last year after sectarian clashes with the Buddhist majority, clashes that were encouraged by local nationalist politicians and members of the Buddhist clergy.
At its most simple, the violence that swept through this western part of Burma stems from a belief among the Buddhists that the Rohingya are not Burmese and should “go back” to Bangladesh. The Rohingya say they have lived there for centuries.
Both President Thein Sein, who was last week in Washington receiving plaudits for the steps he has taken in moving Burma closer towards democracy, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, have been criticised to failing to try and end the violence. The official position of Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is that the Rohingya are “Bengalis”.
“President Sein has also made genuine efforts to resolve longstanding ethnic conflicts within the country, and has recognised the need to establish laws that respect the rights of the people of Myanmar,” claimed Mr Obama when he met the Burmese leader.
But he added: “We also shared with President Sein our deep concern about communal violence that has been directed at Muslim communities inside of Myanmar.”
As it is, this weekend, the state authorities in Rakhine revealed plans to introduce a two-child limit for Muslims in some districts. The rule will not apply to Buddhists.
These drawings tell their own stories. They were created by the children of the camps during a visit by Nora Rowley, a medical doctor and human rights activist who has worked with people from conflict zones who have suffered torture or trauma.
On a visit to the camps this spring, she handed the children pencils and crayons but was careful not to dictate to them what they should draw. Around seventy-five youngsters aged nine and older took part.
“I asked the kids to tell the world what is going on here and why you had to leave your homes,” said Ms Rowley, speaking from Bangkok. “I did not mention violence. I did not prompt them to say anything.”
Over several sessions in late February and early March, the children’s experiences poured out in the most startling, graphic fashion onto the paper they had been given. Some of the children found the experience itself traumatic; one little boy covered his piece of drawing paper with his hand so that others could not see.
“Sometimes the children blame themselves for what has happened,” said Ms Rowley. “It is amazing they are able to communicate so much.”
She added: “They are kids. Not adults. They have not adjusted their stories...What I found was that most of these kids had not told their stories to anyone.”
One boy, 13-year-old N, came from the coastal town of Kyuak Phuyu, which was attacked last October. Over the course of two days, local Buddhists set fire to the Muslim quarter of town. Satellite imagery examined by Human Rights Watch suggested that at least 811 houses were destroyed. The Muslims took to their fishing boats to save their lives
When he was handed a piece of paper, N drew a picture which showed how his house had been set on fire and that when his family had run outside they discovered men in green military uniforms
Some of the Rohingya tried to fight back and defend their mosque and a number were killed. After making their way to their boats, the vessels were intercepted by the navy and were not allowed ashore for three days, he said. There was no fresh water. The teenager said she saw several people die in the boats.
Another nine-year-old, Z, who lived in a neighbourhood in the north of Sittwe, close to the Kaladan River, told Ms Rowley that the paramilitary police, or Hlun Htin, had set fire to their house.
“Rakhine (Buddhists) chased and killed people with swords as the people escaped to boats,” the boy said. “People swam to boats. There were many dead bodies in the water.”
Experts and Burmese watchers say the conditions in the Rohingya camps remain wretched and that the Burmese government appears to have little plan.
British MP Rushanara Ali, the shadow minister for international development, recently visited the camps and last week gave evidence on her findings at the House of Commons. Among the places she visited was a camp accessible only by a two hour boat journey and established on a stretch of beach, littered with human faeces.
She said there was barely any sanitation, little shade and nothing for people to do. She met with groups of Rohingya women, clearly traumatised by their ordeal. Many of them told her they felt they “might as well be dead”.
“The children are children,” she said. “They are trying to get on with their lives, but it is very difficult.”
One of the problems is that the government of Thein Sein has made it difficult for aid groups to operate there, so much so that most of those that are able to work there prefer to keep a low profile.
Some basic facilities for children have been established by one international charity that requested that its name was not used, such is the sensitivity of the situation. But even these facilities are limited in their both their scope and scale.
Campaigners say it is essential the West uses its leverage with Thein Sein during these crucial weeks and months to try and push him to do more.
“Thein Sein's strong focus on improving international relations demonstrates that he is sensitive to international opinion,” said Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK.
“If he did face stronger pressure over restrictions on aid to the Rohingya and the need to give them citizenship, he would need to respond.”
'They stood shouting at us to come out and be killed': Anti-Muslim violence in central Burma has left thousands of people homeless
Tuesday, 9 April 2013
In a wilderness of scorched rubble and twisted corrugated iron, a woman with wilted jasmine flowers in her hair was trying to locate what was left of her life. Ma Khin Aye lost her home and all her possessions when an anti-Muslim mob – including Buddhist neighbours with whom she had been friendly for years – set fire to it, along with all the others in the block in the central Burmese city of Meiktila. Armed with sticks and iron bars they then stood in the street, threatening to murder the terrified residents as they fled.
Ma Khin Aye, 48, escaped the flames with her aged mother, who was almost comatose with shock. She braved the mob, got her mother on to the back of a scooter and took her to hospital. A week later, she came back to the ruins, rooting through the rubble to see if anything could be salvaged. While she did so, youths were looting the neighbourhood. They took anything of value that remained . Meiktila had been under army lockdown for a week, but neither the soldiers nor the police were there to stop them.
“I have no enemies. I have been living here for a long time,” Ma Khin Aye, who is unmarried and sells toys in a local market, told The Independent. “Our communities have always been friendly: nothing like this has ever happened. At Thingyan [Burmese New Year] they would invite us into their homes; we would invite them into ours for Eid.” Who started the attacks? “Some of them were strangers – but when they wanted to find the homes of the kalar [Muslims], it was local people who brought them here. They stood there with sticks, shouting, ‘Come out, kalar, and we will kill you…’”
Two years after Burma began its trek towards democracy, and one year after the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s by-election triumph, the anti-Muslim violence took at least 43 lives when it broke out in Meiktila last month, and has left thousands homeless. Beginning on 20 March, it raged for days and was quelled only when President Thein Sein declared an emergency, sending in the army. About 42 people have been arrested.
Unlike the anti-Muslim eruptions last year in Rakhine state, on the border with Bangladesh, where hostility has been simmering for decades, the Meiktila attacks came out of nowhere. When the army stamped them out, Muslim communities in 15 towns and villages to the south of the city came under attack, with mosques and homes knocked down. Then, last week, the flames arrived in Rangoon: 15 children and youths died from smoke inhalation when their madrassa caught fire on Monday evening. The government was quick to say it was an accident, blaming an overheating transformer. The Independent spoke to several Muslims who claimed it was a deliberate attack, pointing to evidence of petrol burns inside the building.
The following night another fire almost broke out. Five men were apprehended carrying petrol cans into a mosque near the city centre.
It is just two years since Thein Sein, a former general, became Burma’s first civilian president after decades of military rule and began rushing through reforms. The progress since then has been exhilarating, but the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment has suddenly thrown all that into question.
Some believe the riots are due to the sudden release from 50 years of authoritarian rule: destructive urges held in check all these years are being given vent. Tensions have been heightened since hundreds were killed and more than 100,000 made homeless during clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya in western Burma last year. But as Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of the Irrawaddy news website points out, religious riots also occurred under military rule.
“In past decades, many Burmese people believed rulers of the Socialist and military regimes used religious tension as a political weapon to distract the public from anti-government movements,” he wrote.
A movement known as 969, urging Buddhists to shun Muslim shops and businesses, has gained momentum in recent months. The monk who heads the movement, known as Wirathu, was jailed in 2003 for inciting violence in Mandalay state, but denies blame on this occasion. “We’ve just become scapegoats … Within our circle, 969 is not violent,” he said.
Although Thein Sein was handpicked for the role of President by Senior General Than Shwe, the speed of his reforms is said to have left some of his old army colleagues aghast. By-elections a year ago brought Ms Suu Kyi and more than 40 of her National League for Democracy colleagues into parliament. The old soldiers who run Thein Sein’s party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, fear that the NLD will win the next election, due in 2015, with a landslide. During the Meiktila violence, Thein Sein said the efforts of “political opportunists and religious extremists” trying to sow hatred between faiths would “not be tolerated”.
“We must rise above 60 years of bitterness,” he said. But the level of devastation in Meiktila has caused many to question Thein Sein’s ability to protect victims such as Ma Khin Aye.
A history of violence: Religious tensions
1962 Former military commander and Prime Minister Ne Win seizes power in a coup. Laws against Muslims are introduced in the decades of military rule that follow, fuelling animosity.
1997 Monks lead violence against Muslims in the Mandalay region, burning homes and religious sites.
2002 Amid growing turmoil, a Human Rights Watch report states: “The government has failed to take effective action to protect Muslims in Burma… and taken no action to punish those responsible for destroying Muslim homes and mosques.”
2003 Wirathu, a leading figure of the extremist Buddhist movement 969, is jailed.
2012 More than a year after a civilian government is installed, violence leaves more than 180 Rohingya Muslims dead and over 100,000 homeless.
2013 Buddhist-Muslim riots erupt in Meiktila, killing more than 40 with over 13,000 left homeless.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world ... 6460.html#
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