Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Yangon residents react to rumors of communal violence

Wednesday, 27 March 2013 13:06 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

In the wake of the Meiktila riots and ongoing Buddhist-Muslim inter-communal fighting across Myanmar, fears have been growing about the violence spreading to Yangon.

Reports of mob violence and mosques being burnt down in Bago, a town 150 km north of the country's biggest city, came as rumors of street fights, anti-Muslim mobs forming and mosques being stoned in various Muslim-populated areas of Yangon stirred.

Myanmar authorities are reported to have reacted by implementing a curfew on businesses in certain areas of Yangon.

"To prevent the occurrence of violence in Yangon amid rumors, Myanmar local township authorities on Monday initially imposed restriction on business hours of shops in some four townships in the city—Tamwe, Pazundaung, Mingla Taung Nyunt and Thakayta—ordering them to close [by] 9 pm local time," according to Xinhua, a Chinese news agency.

The US Embassy also issued a warning to tourists on March 25 "strongly advising" them to not visit the areas near Mingalar Market and Yuzana Plaza in the predominantly Muslim-populated area Mingalar Taung Nyunt that lies Southeast of Kandawgyi Lake.

"A fight broke out in that area today as a result of ongoing tensions, resulting in a heavy police presence. Many shops have closed," claims the embassy statement.

A further report released by International SOS on March 26 advised personnel to anticipate heightened security, saying: "Rumors overnight on March 24/25 that mosques in the city had been set alight triggered minor Muslim-Buddhist scuffles in Yangon's Yuzana Plaza and Ma U Gone areas, while there was also a failed arson attempt against a local mosque."

Additional security forces have reportedly been deployed and local residents have reported an increase in police on motorbikes in the area.

However, reports have differed and many residents and a local police officer have claimed that authorities have overreacted to the events in Yangon.

According to The People's Will News Media's Facebook page, Win Aung Ni, a deputy police officer in the Mingalar Taung Nyunt area, said on Monday that police assisted six people who were chased by another group as they were waiting for a taxi.

"Beginning at 8pm [on Sunday evening], there was continuous patrolling around the township to be secured till the sun came out. Some people unnecessarily worried about it. If it keeps going like this, there will be a problem."

He said in another case, police responded to a phone call but that, "In reality, there was nothing happening. However, it could get worse because people worry too much and they have done what they think is right," he said, according to The People's Will News Media's Facebook page.

Several residents in the area have claimed that the situation has been blown severely out of proportion with one resident claiming that the fight that broke out was actually a bar fight, "which, due to current anxieties, was taken out of context," said the source, who preferred to remain anonymous.

He said that he was told that “nationalist” 969 cars were patrolling the streets of the district on March 25 and that evening several mosques and businesses in the area were stoned. However, he said that he then walked on Monday from 88th Street up to 122nd Street, down 101st Street, and back to 88th Street along Myanmar Gone Yi Road. “I saw no evidence of fighting, damage or violence anywhere," he said.

Another 87th Street resident in Mingalar Taung Nyunt said that from what he had seen the curfew had merely meant that 24-hour stores had put up a gate, but that they were still in operation.

As rumors whirred that an anti-Muslim mob was forming in Ahlone Township in Yangon on the evening of March 26, Phil Blackwood, manager of 50th Street, a popular bar in the Downtown area of Yangon, said that, “Business is as usual, although outside lights will be turned off from 9 pm.”

And another Mingalar Taung Nyut resident said that as he passed the mosque on 101st Street there were "plenty of Muslims outside waiting for prayers to start" and during the night nothing happened. "Even the garbage collection service was running," he said.
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