Myanmar: Knife-wielding mob destroys mosque in N Myanmar

3rd Jul 2016
Myanmar: Knife-wielding mob destroys mosque in N Myanmar

By Kyaw Ye Lynn

 

YANGON,  (AA): A riotous mob has set fire to a mosque in Myanmar’s north and razed it to the ground after local Muslims refuse to comply with a nationalist group’s demolition order.

The incident was the second such attack in the past month, leading to calls from human rights groups for more to be done to protect the country’s Muslim community.

The Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Saturday that the 500-strong mob — “wielding sticks, knives and other weapons”– had descended on the building in Kachin State around 3.30 p.m. Friday (0930GMT), after the hardline group whipped up anti-Muslim fervor.

“Around 150 people forcibly entered the mosque compound and stormed the building, setting it alight,” a local policeman told Anadolu Agency by phone late Friday night.

“Once they entered, the police chief decided not to stop them as there were [only] around 50 police officers present.”

The man asked not to be named as he was not authorized to talk to local media.

On June 17, local members of Buddhist nationalist organization Ma Ba Tha accused Muslim residents in Le Pyin of building the mosque illegally during the two-year construction of a nearby bridge, and threatened to destroy it unless its owners tore it down before June 30.

The Global New Light of Myanmar reported that local authorities had given a demolition order after negotiations with the mosques’ owners broke down, saying structures in the mosque’s compound did not comply with local rules and regulations.

On Thursday, the chairman of the mosque’s caretaker committee told Anadolu Agency that the authorities’ order did not refer to the mosque, but other buildings in the compound.

“Two new buildings were built by the construction company in the mosque compound during the bridge construction — one for construction material storage and [another] for the construction workers’ use — and the company donated them to the mosque afterwards,” Thein Aung said in a phone interview.

He said that under pressure from nationalists, local Muslims were left with little option but to tear down the two new buildings on June 19, along with a house used by the imam, which had stood at the site for several decades.

“We didn’t want any problems. Therefore we decided to do so,” he underlined.

Ma Ba Tha nationalists, however, then issued a June 20 ultimatum ordering that the mosque also be demolished by the end of June.

“It is totally unacceptable. The mosque had been there since 1988,” Thein Aung said.

“’We can’t do that,’ we replied.”

State media reported Saturday that steps are being taken to press charges against those involved in the attack, but police are yet to identify any culprits.

On Friday, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, expressed deep concerns to reporters over anti-Muslim attacks in Myanmar, at the end of a 12-day trip to the region.

“Whether deliberate or not, the incident can be seen as an attack on the past, present and future of one community,” Lee said of an attack on a mosque and religious buildings in a village in the southern Bago region last week that left a Muslim man injured.

Police are yet to make any arrests after a mob partially destroyed the mosque, a school, a Muslim dwelling and a building under construction on June 23, which villagers had accused of being an illegal religious school.

Such incidents have rekindled fears of a return to the violence of 2012, when communal tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in western Rakhine State left 200 people dead and displaced thousands.

On Friday, Lee urged the country’s government to demonstrate that instigating and committing violence against an ethnic or religious minority community has no place in the country.

“I am therefore concerned by reports that the Government will not pursue action in the most recent case due to fears of fuelling greater tensions and provoking more conflict,” she said.

“This is precisely the wrong signal to send.”

On Saturday, Human Rights Watch accused Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government of not doing enough to prevent such incidents.

“There was plenty of time to intervene decisively to prevent this outcome, but the government just sat on its hands and let it happen,” Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson told Anadolu Agency in an email.

“This mob action shows the very real consequences of the government’s inexplicable failure to constrain hardline Buddhist nationalists determined to use violence to drive Muslims out of their communities… It’s wake up time for the NLD-led government.”

Anti-Muslim rhetoric from Ma Ba Tha — the Organization for Protection of Race and Religion — has been seen as deliberately stoking the flames of religious hatred against the country’s Muslims, with prominent member Wirathu — a nationalist monk — blaming them for communal conflicts, and accusing them of attempting to Islamize the country of 57 million people.

Ma Ba Tha recently held protests to demand Aung San Suu Kyi’s new National League for Democracy government implement harsh policies toward the country’s minority Rohingya Muslims, and that foreign embassies refrain from using “Rohingya” to refer to the Muslim ethnicity, instead describing them as “Bengali”, which suggests they are interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.

 

[Photo: Mosque burnt down same time as UN special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee delivers a speech during a press conference in Yangon, Myanmar on July 1, 2016. Ms Yanghee Lee has concluded her 12-day trip to Myanmar as part of her mission to compile a report to submit to the 71st UN General Assembly in September. Photographer – Aung Naing Soe/AA]

 

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