Muslims in Myanmar say they fear for their safety after a fresh outbreak of deadly attacks by mobs of Buddhist extremists on their community in the country.
A day after hundreds of Buddhist mobs armed with bricks stormed a group of Muslim villages in Okkan, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Yangon, local people, who escaped and hid in forests, spoke about their experience.
“We ran into the fields and didn’t carry anything with us,” Hla Myint, a 47-year-old father of eight said on Wednesday.
“We thought that the problems could arise in our village and they (his neighbors) also told me that there is just a fence between us and we can go over it if we are to stand united. Then their faces changed. They threw stones at our house at night and they didn’t speak to us in the morning,” said Muslim resident Ko Ko Naing.
According to some of the residents, as many as 400 Buddhist extremists armed with bricks and sticks attacked Okkan villages, targeting Muslim shops and ransacking two mosques that left one man dead and ten others injured.
“When the crowds came, they shouted things like ‘Don’t defend yourselves, we will only destroy the mosque, not your homes, we won’t harm you,'” said Hla Myint.
But, he added, the extremists burned his village’s mosque and destroyed the villagers’ houses.
Three outlying villages were hit the worst in the attacks, with at least 60 houses torched in each village.
Police say they arrested at least 18 people over their involvement in the attacks.
The violence that originally targeted Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar is beginning to spread to other parts of the country, where Muslims who have been granted citizenship are now being attacked, according to the website burmamuslims.org.
About 800,000 Rohingyas in the western state of Rakhine are deprived of citizenship rights due to the policy of discrimination that has denied them the right of citizenship and made them vulnerable to acts of violence and persecution, expulsion, and displacement.
The Myanmar government has so far refused to extricate the stateless Rohingyas from their citizenship limbo, despite international pressure to give them a legal status.
Rohingya Muslims have faced torture, neglect, and repression in Myanmar for many years.
Hundreds of Rohingyas are believed to have been killed and thousands displaced in recent attacks by extremists who call themselves Buddhists.
The extremists frequently attack Rohingyas and have set fire to their homes in several villages in Rakhine. Myanmar army forces allegedly provided the fanatics containers of petrol for torching the houses of Muslim villagers, who are then forced to flee.
Myanmar’s government has been accused of failing to protect the Muslim minority.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has also come under fire for her stance on the violence. The Nobel Peace laureate has refused to censure the Myanmar military for its persecution of the Rohingyas.
Rohingyas are said to be Muslim descendants of Persian, Turkish, Bengali, and Pathan origin, who migrated to Myanmar as early as the 8th century.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued separate statements, calling on Myanmar to take action to protect the Rohingya Muslim population against extremists.