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Meiktila violence sends warning to foreign investors

This was published originally in the Bangkok Post

In Myanmar's capital Yangon, on March 20-21, a business investment summit presented Myanmar as a stable, growing democracy eager to establish agriculture, infrastructure, financial and manufacturing partnerships with leading international companies.

The messages were clear _ Myanmar's transition to democracy is irreversible, wide-ranging reforms are underway and the country is now ripe for investment and trade.

Investors flocked, excited about new business prospects in a country that had been economically and politically isolated for decades.

In stark contradiction, and with devastating consequences, extreme brutal violence was unleashed against Muslim residents of the township of Meiktila near Mandalay.

The aftermath of the attacks, which took place on the same day as the summit, left Meiktila looking like a war zone. Scores of buildings, including many shops and mosques, were razed to the ground. Reports from local media and human rights organisations claim hundreds may have been killed in the attacks.

Eyewitnesses have told horrific stories of people being stoned, beaten and burned to death. Among the most chilling reports to have emerged is one of 28 students, including many orphans, and four teachers at an Islamic school being beaten to death by a large Buddhist mob.

Over the weekend, fear and violence spread, with attacks reported in other parts of the country including in Nay Pyi Taw, Bago, Yamethin and Yangon. On Sunday night, three trucks of armed vigilantes mounted attempted attacks on Muslim shopkeepers and mosques in downtown Yangon, mere minutes away from the popular Aung San Market and five-star hotels close by.

The most alarming feature about the recent violence is that it bears the mark not of "communal clashes", but of carefully calculated and systematically planned attacks against a minority. Indeed, at the height of the attacks, many shocked Buddhist residents of Meiktila even risked their own lives to protect Muslims in their homes or drive them out of the city.

Local Muslim organisations have been warning for many months about mounting anti-Muslim campaigns by radical Buddhist groups, including the recently established 969 Movement, who are believed to have instigated the Meiktila attacks. Anti-Muslim incidents have increased steadily over the past few months, including the demolition of an Islamic school on the outskirts of Yangon by a mob of 300 Buddhists on Feb 17.

 

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Lilianne Fan & Jemilah Mahmood

29th March 2013