10. The Freedom of Belief and
Burma was designated one of six “countries of particular concern” in March 2003 by the US Secretary of State for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. This is the fourth consecutive year Burma has been so designated. The majority of the population of Burma is Theravada Buddhist, although this is often combined with veneration of pre-Buddhist deities called ‘nats.’ Buddhist monks number more than 300,000 and there is also a small percentage of Buddhist nuns. Buddhism is inseparably entwined with the Burmese national identity, which is used and promoted by the current military junta. However, there are also significant numbers of Christians and Muslims. According to official Government statistics almost 90% of the population practices Buddhism, 4% practice Christianity, 4% Islam and 2% practice Hinduism, traditional Chinese religions and Animism. There is also a small Jewish population in Rangoon. It is thought these figures probably understate the numbers of non-Buddhists living in Burma. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003)
Religious affiliation is linked with ethnicity, with Buddhism being the dominant religion of the Burman majority. Christianity is the majority religion among ethnic minorities mostly concentrated in the border ethnic states such as the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, and Naga. Muslims are found in most areas of Burma, with a large concentration in Arakan State amongst the Rohingya. Hinduism is practiced mainly by Tamil and Bengali populations concentrated in major cities. Chinese ethnic minorities generally practice traditional Chinese religion. Smaller ethnic groups in northern areas still practice traditional indigenous religions.
The 1974 constitution states the "the national races shall enjoy the freedom to profess their religion, provided that the enjoyment of any such freedom does not offend the laws or the public interest." However in practice the government closely monitors and infiltrates religious organizations through its internal security apparatus and, in various ways, systematically denies freedom of religious expression irrespective of religion. All organizations must be registered with the government and although there is a directive that exempts some religious groups from this in practice it is impossible to operate with out registration. The SPDC strictly controls the proselytizing and practicing of other religions, forbids the building of new religious buildings and demolishes existing ones. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003)
Although there is no official state religion the successive military regimes have closely allied themselves to Buddhism. The state mandated curriculum in elementary schools contains Buddhist doctrine and all students must recite a Buddhist prayer. In some schools students may be exempt, but in others, children from all religions are forced to conform. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003)
The persecution of religious groups is bound together with the SPDC’s wider policies of suppressing opposition to their rule and formulating a ‘national identity.’ As religious affiliation is connected to ethnicity and dissent, the junta has coercively promoted Buddhism over other religions and in some cases forcibly converted the non-Buddhist ethnic minorities to Buddhism, in the interests of national unity. The Chin Human Rights Group (CHRO) comments, "The SPDC seems relentless in Burmanizing the country by systematically destroying significant and symbolic identities of non-Burman ethnic groups,” (source: Salai Za Uk Ling & Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Religious Persecution: a campaign of ethnocide against Chin Christians in Burma, CHRO, February 2004). As an old saying clearly illustrates this idea, Buddha bata, Myanmar Lumyo - "to be a Myanmar is to be a Buddhist." However when Buddhists show signs of dissent, the SPDC is quick to crack down on their activities, and shows little respect to the Sanga (Buddhist clergy). Tensions between the Buddhist and non-Buddhist population have often been manipulated by the junta during periods of increased opposition, to draw attention away from politics. An example of this was cited after the Depayin incident in 2003, the Government was accused of fuelling anti-Muslim sentiment to draw attention away from the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD members.
Discrimination is widespread against members of minority religions, who disproportionately face abuses such as travel restrictions, forced labor, and land confiscation. For non-Buddhists discrimination occurs at upper levels in the public sector, Muslims are actively discouraged from entering military service and if any non-Buddhist aspires to promotion above middle ranks, they are strongly encouraged to convert by their superiors. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003)
10.2 Religious Discrimination against Christians
The main Christian groups in Burma are Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Seventh Day Adventists. The authorities oppress Christian groups through both overt and covert means. Christian groups continue to face difficulties in obtaining permission to build new places of worship in most regions. It has been reported that in some parts of Chin State the authorities have not allowed for the construction of any new churches since 1997. In addition, authorities in Rangoon have instructed some Christians not to refer to their churches as such but as “social centers” instead. This situation has led to Christian groups building small churches on side streets or other unobtrusive sites with only informal approval. Yet, informal approval leaves these churches vulnerable to permission being rescinded suddenly, construction being stopped and buildings being destroyed. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003)
Freedom for Christian groups to practice their religion has also been curtailed, with religious activities being both disrupted and prohibited. In 2001, over 80 house churches in Rangoon were shut down resulting from the lack of proper permission to conduct religious meetings (source International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003). In 2002 and 2003 evangelists in South Dagon Township near Rangoon were threatened with arrest if they opened their home churches and kindergartens. Dr Salai Tun Than, a prominent Christian political prisoner who was released from prison this year, reported that whilst in jail his freedom to practice his religion was extremely limited. The prison authorities reportedly did not allow him to have a bible or to take Holy Communion. (Source: “Christian Political Prisoner, Dr. Salai Tun Than Released After Hunger Strike in Burmese Jail,” Christian Solidarity Worldwide website, http://www.cswusa.com/Reports%20 Pages/Reports-Burma.htm, 6 May 2003)
Christians have also been prohibited from proselytizing and in some Chin areas it has been prevented by, among other methods, arresting and physically abusing the Christian clergy. In April 2002, two Chin pastors were arrested ostensibly for having unregistered guests in their house, although it is thought they were arrested in an effort to force them to stop proselytizing in the Dagon North area. They refused to stop, and so were sent to Insein Prison. The pastors and their families have since, reportedly, been released from prison. Reports from other areas such as Kachin and Shan States reveal the authorities’ attempts to prohibit the Christian clergy from proselytizing by granting permission for events, rescinding the permission and then allowing the event to occur much later or on a smaller scale. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003)
All publications, religious and secular, are under strict control and censorship. Indigenous language translations of the Bible cannot be imported legally, however they can be printed with government permission but getting this permission is a lengthy and difficult process.
In other attempts to thwart Chin Christians from worshipping, military units have repeatedly removed Christian churches and established new military camps in their place. Military camps have also been built on the sites of Christian graveyards. Chin Christians have been forced to assist in removing their religious buildings and to build the new military camps. In addition, Chin Christians have been forced to remove structures such as crosses placed outside of villages, which are often replaced with pagodas through forced labor. It has been reported that Chin Christians are then forced to clean and maintain these and other Buddhist shrines. (Source International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003)
Although forced labor is a problem throughout the country, reports indicate it is used in particular in ethnic areas and is tied to efforts to repress people’s freedom to adhere to their religion. In 2001, there were reports that in Karen State's Pa-an Township, army units repeatedly conscripted porters from worshippers as they left Sunday services at some Christian churches, causing young men to avoid church attendance. In July 2003, in Hmun Halh in Chin State, SPDC soldiers entered a church and disrupted the service by ordering the worship leaders to leave immediately to work as porters. (Source: Rogers, Benedict, “Burma: Religious Freedom Survey,” Forum 18 News, 17 August 2004) (See chapter on forced labor for more information.)
Christians in all areas have to face the authority’s attempts at conversion as the regime strongly promotes Buddhism over Christianity in often manipulative ways. In Chin areas, this campaign to Burmanize the ethnic minorities has reportedly involved increases in military units stationed in Chin State, relocation of Burman Buddhist monks from other areas, and construction of Buddhist monasteries and shrines in Christian areas, often by forced labor or with funds collected through unfair taxation. Chin Christians that convert to Buddhism are promised monthly payments and Buddhists are able to take advantage of reduced price rice supplied by the government, free food distributed on Sunday mornings when Christians are in church and exemption from forced labor. Amongst the Naga ethnic group there were credible reports that the military forcibly converted hundreds of tribal Naga’s, on the promise of governments jobs. Those who resisted were abused and kept as bonded labor by the military. It was also reported that SPDC soldiers were promoted to higher ranks if they married Christian women in both Chin and Naga ethnic minority areas and converted them to Buddhism. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003)
The issue of religious tolerance is closely linked with ethnic insurgencies against the military government. Many of the groups still actively engaged in fighting with pro-government troops are from Christian areas such as the Karen, Karenni, Kachin and Chin. In his inauguration speech for the meeting on "Freedom of Religion: Human Right Denied in Burma," Father del Prete, secretary of the Pontifical Missionary Union, said, "the military Junta ...perseveres in a constant persecution against the Catholic Church and human rights." He further linked this to the perception of church activities being connected to 'northern guerrillas' (source: "Burma Not Treating the Church Fairly, Says Missionary," Zenit.org, 19 January 2003). Persecution in Chin areas has also risen since 1988 when opposition groups started developing active insurgencies against the SPDC. Before this time, according to the CHRO, the Chin practised their religion with little interference from the government. (Source: Salai Za Uk Ling & Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Religious Persecution: a Campaign of Ethnocide against Chin Christians in Burma, CHRO, February 2004)
In Karen areas there continues to be fighting between the pro-military and government-backed Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Union (KNU) who are predominately Christian. The DKBA's treatment of Christians has reportedly improved in recent years in the areas they now oversee, however during the mid 1990's torture and persecution of Christians was a regular occurrence (source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003). Yet, in an offensive directed against the KNU in October 2003 the DKBA took control of the Mae Ple Do valley and overran a field hospital administered by Christian Freedom International (CFI), an international Christian human rights NGO. CFI staff reported the DKBA fired until the hospital staff had fled from the building. This is the fourth CFI hospital that has been lost in the last four years due to SPDC and DKBA forces. (Source: "Christian Hospital Overrun by Burmese Militia; Attack Occurs 'Next Door to APEC Summit," U.S. Newswire, 23 October 2003)
Persecution of Christians - Partial List of Incidents for 2003
Five Chin Christian children escape from Buddhist monastery
In January 2003, 5 of several children from Chin State who had been taken to various Buddhist monasteries ran away from the monasteries and arrived back in Matupi. At the time this was reported, 2 children still remained in the monasteries.
Salai Val Thang was placed at Rangoon Hill Buddhist Mission Center, located at Thit Seih Kan ward, Theinkan village of Mingladon Township in Rangoon, while Salai San De Thang, Salai Se Ki, and Salai Aung Naing Myo were placed at Yuamah Pari Gati Buddhist school. Salai Lai Thang still remains at Rangoon Hill Buddhist Mission Center and Salai Kam Lian Thawng, son of Pu Ri Sang in Matupi, is still at Sule Thein Daw Kyi school in Rangoon. They are all between the ages of 8 and 17.
The children were taken to the monastery on the pretext of giving them a better education, however instead they were placed in Buddhist Monasteries and were made to put on robes, take lessons on Buddhist precepts and follow strict monastic disciplines. (Source: "5 Chin Christian Children Escape from Buddhist Monastery", Rhododendron Publication, CHRO, January - February 2003)
Twenty-one Christian villages in Chin State forced by SPDC to supply wood to build Buddhist monastery
On 10 February 2003, it was reported that the SPDC was forcing 21 villages in Chin State to supply timber for construction of a Buddhist monastery in Thangtlang town, central Chin State.
The order was signed by Captain Aung Naing Oo of Burmese Army LIB 268. A total of 21 villages from 4 village tracts were affected by the order. The following are the villages which were obliged to supply timber for building the monastery:
A. Vangzang village tract
(1) Sopum (a);
(2) Sopum (b);
B. Bawipatlang tract
(9) Leitak (a);
(10) Leitak (b);
(11) Leitak (c);
C. Vailamtlang tract
(20) Thlualarn; and
D. Zahnaktlang tract
Upon completion, the monastery will house 15 Chin children whose parents are newly converted to Buddhism from Christianity. The children will have a chance to study free of charge and their parents will be exempt from serving as porters or any kind of forced labor. As new converts, they also enjoy other special privileges such as subsidized rations and other basic commodities. (Source: “21 Christian Villages in Chin State Being Forced by SPDC to Supply Wood to Build Buddhist Monastery," Rhododendron Publication, CHRO, 10 February 2003)
No.1 Military Strategic Command forces Christian villagers to extend monastery
In February 2003, the No.1 Military Strategic Command forced villagers from Myitta village, 35 km east of Tavoy town, to work 3 to 5 times a month to extend and maintain a Buddhist monastery set up by the military.
The residents of Myitta village are Karen Christians who were forcibly relocated. One person per household was summoned by No.1 MSC commander. They were paid nothing, and if a householder could not attend they had to pay 500 kyat for substitution. The commander forced the villagers to collect sand, river shingle and boulders from the river and carry it to the monastery even on Sundays. The commander also warned villagers not to group up and discuss or deliver speeches because such activities are against the SPDC's law. As the Karen Christians ‘group up’ in churches or in member’s houses for prayer services, they became scared by the warning. Reports from people who fled to Thailand from Myitta village say they felt they were being oppressed because they are Karen.
The No.1 MSC has named Myitta village "Ideal Myitta Village." The villagers there have suffered religious and ethnic oppression since the SPDC troops invaded and setup their frontline headquarters in February 1997. Since that time other Karen villagers around Myitta village have been forcibly relocated to Myitta village, and have not been allowed to go back and live in their own villages. (Source: Monthly Human Rights Situation Report: Tenasserim Division, Mergui-Tavoy District Information Department, KNU, February 2003)
Hundreds of Naga ethnic group flee Burma due to religious persecution
On 27 July 2003, there were reports of hundreds of ethnic Naga people who lived in the border areas of Burma, fleeing the country following alleged religious persecution by the military junta. The Naga People's Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) claimed that several Christian Naga families living in Burma were forcibly converted by the monks in remote areas of Sagaing Division. Moreover several Churches located in the border areas have been destroyed by the junta when they refused to abide by the order. (Source: "Ethnic Naga's Forced to Flee Burma," Mizzima, 27 July 2003)
10.3 Religious Discrimination against Muslims
There are an estimated 2 million practicing Muslims in Burma, 4% of the population according to official government statistics. This is likely to be an underestimate however as the ruling junta refuses citizenship to many Muslims living in the country. Research conducted by Human Rights Watch puts the figure closer to 10%. (Source: Crackdown on Burmese Muslims, HRW, June 2002)
There are four main ethnically distinct Muslim communities in Burma. In the North and Mandalay are the ethnically Chinese Hui with roots in Yunnan who dominate much of the cross border trade. The second group arrived during colonial times from India and Pakistan and are mostly based in Rangoon and Mandalay. In the central plains are the ethnically Burman Muslims who were converted between the 9th and 14th centuries by Arab traders and scholars. The fourth group is the Rohingya who live mainly in Northern Arakan State and have a common cultural heritage with Bangladeshi Bengali Muslims
Muslims face abuses of their right to practice their religion freely and discrimination based on their religion from both the government and the majority Buddhist population. Muslim groups have experienced a virtual ban on constructing or renovating mosques in all locations. Freedom of assembly for Muslims has been curtailed with authorities refusing permission for religious gatherings and restrictions on the number of Muslims who can gather in one place. The SPDC only allows 200 Muslims to perform the Haj to Mecca each year. For 2003, this figure remained unchanged with the 200 reportedly including 70 pro-SPDC Muslims chosen by the military authorities. According to the Muslim Information Center of Burma, it is believed that these 70 were chosen in order to gather information about activities of other Burmese Muslims performing the Haj and Burmese Muslim organizations abroad (source: “Muslim Haj Situation in Burma”, Muslim Information Center of Burma, 4 February 2003). Muslims also often face difficulties traveling within Burma with high bribes being asked and identity cards defaced or torn up by immigration officials.
Forced labor and the killing of villagers who refuse to be porters continues to be reported disproportionately from Muslims. During the month of Ramadan, in 2000, the Imman (a Muslim religious leader) of a mosque in Karen State was shot and killed as he asked to be exempt from portering duties as it was the Islamic fasting month.
Anti-Muslim violence continued to be an issue throughout the year as in previous years. 2001 was a particularly bad year with violence flaring in several different locations. In February 2001, riots broke out in Sittwe and then in May in Taungoo, Pegu Division. In both cases Muslim residences, mosques and businesses were targeted and authorities were slow to intervene to protect Muslim property. While there is no direct evidence of the government’s connection to the anti-Muslim violence, there were credible reports that it was instigated by USDA members or military personnel wearing robes of Buddhist monks. In Irrawaddy Division, in June 2003, there were unofficial reports linking the USDA to provoking anti-Muslim violence. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003)
Violence flared again in 2003 in central Burma in Kyaukse, Mandalay Division and since that time Muslims in many areas have had freedoms curtailed. Security has been increased in towns in Northern Arakan State and, although there is no official curfew, people found on the streets after 10:00 pm have been arrested and there are reports of soldiers being on every street corner in Sittwe, as they were in the coup of 1988. (Source: “High Security Alert in Towns of Northern Arakan," Narinjara, 15 December 2003)
Relations between the Buddhist community and the Muslims continued to be strained and have been exacerbated in some locations by the open distribution of an anti-Muslim book entitled In Fear of Our Race Disappearing. The book first appeared in print in 1997 or 1998 and distribution has been increasing since 2001. According to the book, Muslims will replace Buddhists in the country unless actions are taken against them. In 2003, the book was reportedly distributed openly for the first time in the markets of Kyaukse and distributed to Buddhist monasteries whilst authorities did nothing to stop it. Residents in Kyaukse have also been told to boycott Muslim shops and not rent land or houses to Muslims. (Source: “Anti-Muslim Booklets Sold in Kyaukse," DVB, 5 February 2003)
The SPDC readily exploits the anti-Muslim sentiment that is present within Burma for its own gains. There is a history of anti-Muslim riots breaking out in Burma when the government wants to divert the public’s attention from political and economic concerns. Commentators have noted that the anti-Muslim violence that has taken place in the past year, in particular that at Kyaukse and Pyinmana town, was orchestrated by the government to take the spotlight away from the incident at Depayin when Aung San Suu Kyi and members of NLD were arrested. (Source: "SPDC Attempts to Divert Peoples Attention from Depayin Massacre," Kaladan Press, 26 July 2003)
Anti-Muslim sentiment has existed in Burma since colonial times when Muslims took up many occupations as traders, businessmen, laborers, civil servants and moneylenders. Those involved in money lending, also known as the Indian chettyar profession, were often viewed as cheating the Burmese by stealing their money and land. Generally accorded higher status by the British, the Indians were often resented by the Burman population. Anti-Muslim feeling has taken on a new dimension however since the attacks of 11 September 2001 in the USA. Initially the SPDC refuted the existence of any terrorist organizations in Burma, yet in August 2002, Burma became a signatory to the US-ASEAN declaration on cooperation against terrorism. Colonel Hla Min, spokesman of the SPDC, said that the government learned that there are Muslim rebel groups in Burma who have been trained by the Taliban in Afghanistan and in terrorist training camps in the Middle East (source: "Myanmar Says Muslims Trained by Taliban and in Middle East Camps," AFP, 8 August 2002). This was met with strong denials from Muslim groups in Burma who fear the SPDC are hijacking world concern over the war on terrorism, as an excuse to further persecute Muslims in Burma. In May 2003 a Burmese man was arrested in Pakistan with alleged links to al-Qaeda, after which the SPDC reiterated its commitment to investigate all links to terrorism in Burma and also mentioned links between the Rohingya and terrorism. Representatives from Rohingya groups have rejected any connection with terrorist groups. While Rohingya groups have been struggling against the Burmese government for years, they insist their movement is independent of a larger Islamic movement. (Source: “Myanmar Vows to Investigate National Arrested in Pakistan on Charges of Aiding Al-Qaeda," AP, 19 May 2003)
This anti-Muslim feeling is being fanned in particular by Win Rathu, a prominent Mandalay monk who has been preaching sermons accusing Muslims of being the source of all the problems in Burma. He further contends that the US sanctions are not aimed at the ruling junta but rather due to the presence of links between the country’s Muslims and al-Qaeda. (Source: Ozturk, Cem "Myanmar's Muslim Sideshow," Asia Times, 20 October 2003)
The Rohingya are a distinct group of Muslims living in the predominantly Buddhist Arakan State. They are ethnically and religiously related to the Chittagonian people of Southern Bangladesh. There are approximately 1.4 million Rohingya, nearly one third of the population, mostly concentrated in the northern townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. The Rohingya experience severe legal, economic and social discrimination, as the Government denies the right to citizenship to most Rohingya. This is due to Burma’s highly restrictive citizenship laws which stipulate that to gain citizenship, one’s ancestors must have resided in the country before British colonial rule started in 1824. The majority of Rohingya immigrated during the period of British colonial rule, therefore they are not viewed as citizens of Burma. Despite this, Rohingya are not issued Foreign Registration cards which are issued to foreigners who wish to reside in the country. In terms of international law they are currently stateless. There were reports towards the end of 2003 that some Rohingya leaders in Arakan State received assistance from the SPDC to travel in order to rouse support for the SPDC’s road map to democracy and national convention. The leaders were secretly told by Military Intelligence that if Muslims supported the SPDC in future elections, Rohingya would be given identity cards and recognised as another race of Burma. (Source: “Muslim Leaders Are Called Up to Help The ‘Road Map’," Narinjara, 5 November 2003)
In 1978 and 1991/92 more than 250,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. Most of these left because of the lack of food caused by the junta’s discriminatory policies. Many of these refugees have now been ‘voluntarily’ repatriated although the voluntariness of this has been seriously questioned. Today there are an estimated 19,000 - 21,000 Rohingya refugees remaining in two camps in Bangladesh who refuse to repatriate, fearing human rights abuses including religious persecution. In May 2003, there was a sharp increase in numbers being repatriated, matched by an increase in complaints of coercion, intimidation and forced repatriation. (Source: Conflict, Discrimination and Humanitarian Challenges in Northern Arakan State, Forum Asia, 8 October 2003) (See chapter on refugees for more information.)
The government has used various means to try and force the Rohingya out of Burma and to discriminate on the basis of their religion. Rohingya are required to gain permission to leave their village areas, which often requires bribery. After the riots of 2001 in Sittwe, travel restrictions tightened and now Rohingya can no longer obtain travel passes to go beyond Buthidaung and Maungdaw. Sittwe is also prohibited. This has had devastating effects on the Rohingya denying them access to markets, employment opportunities, higher education and health services. (Source: Conflict, Discrimination and Humanitarian Challenges in Northern Arakan State, Forum Asia, 8 October 2003)
A 1983 decree by the government announced "Muslim free zones" in certain townships in Arakan State such as Gwa and Taung-gut. In these townships, mosques have been destroyed and land confiscated. Moreover, government buildings, monasteries or pagodas have been built on land where previously mosques had stood, ensuring they were not rebuilt. In other areas original resident Muslims were allowed to stay but all "new" Muslims were refused permission to buy plots or houses. As part of the SPDC’s policies of Burmanization, “model villages” have been established to resettle Buddhists (Rakhine and Burman) onto Muslim land. This has been happening since the 1950s. Land has been confiscated and forced labor used to build these villages, 26 of which now exist in Northern Arakan State.
This confiscation combined with the other discriminatory practices is destroying the economic base of the Rohingya. This also affects their ability to practice their religion fully. For example, in February 2003, the Eid festival was celebrated by thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State. However, the ritual of sacrificing animals could only be carried out by a small number of well off Muslims, as the military authorities’ strict controls over economic activity and movement by the SPDC has resulted in most Muslims being too poor to be able to observe this tradition. In order to obtain permission to sacrifice animals 2,500 kyat, the leather and 2kgs of beef from the sacrificed animal had to be paid to the Nasaka (border security forces). (Source: “Eid- ul- Azha (Eid Festival) Celebrated in Arakan," Kaladan News, 19 February 2003)
Persecution of Rohingya - Partial List of Incidents for 2003
TPDC Chairman ordered to vacate 26 dwelling houses at Maungdaw Town
On 14 June 2003, the Maungdaw TPDC Chairman gave notice to families living in 26 homes at Shikdar Para (Moma Kayandan), Maungdaw Town, Arakan State that they must evacuate their houses by the end of the month. The families of the following people were affected:
(1) Haji Yunus,
(2) Abdul Matalab,
(3) Mohamed Dullah,
(5) Mohamed Jalil,
(6) Nazo Mullah,
(7) Abul Foras,
(8) Abul Kalam,
(9) Zibu Rahman,
(11) Hala Boda,
(12) Ayub Ali,
(13) Mono Meah,
(14) Mohamed Alam,
(15) Hakim Ali,
(17) Abu Tahir,
(18) Mohamed Ayub,
(19) Mohamed Kha Sim,
(21) Ali Akbar,
(22) Kha Lu,
(23) Say Tu,
(24) Ms. Nasima Khatun,
(25) Ms. Mazuma, and
(26) Ms. Shuna Bi Bi.
It was reported that the affected villagers appealed to the Chairman of Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) to allow them to continue their stay until the end of the monsoon and they also requested an alternative site for their resettlement. However, by 26 June, the date of the report, there had been no response from the authorities.
There were no instructions from the authorities regarding compensation or an alternative site for their resettlement. Moving the village during the Monsoon season would cause many difficulties with building new huts, commented one of the villagers.
In August 2002, the TPDC ordered villagers to vacate these same houses but the authorities had verbally allowed them to continue their stay after being bribed according to one of the householders. (Source: "TPDC Chairman Ordered to Vacate 26 Dwelling Houses at Maungdaw Town", Kaladan News, 26 June 2003)
Repair works of Maungdaw Jame Mosque halted again
On 11 July 2003, the Chairman of the Maungdaw TPDC, Capt. Hla Pho, issued an order to stop again all the repair works of the Maungdaw Jame Mosque.
Authorities had prohibited all repair and extension work on the mosque for the previous 4 years. However, permission was received after repeated requests in June 2003 from the Chairman of the Maungdaw District Peace and Development Council.
Accordingly, the mosque management had collected and purchased necessary building materials. When work was in progress however, it was ordered to stop leading to substantial financial losses to the mosque.
The Jame Mosque is one of the biggest and oldest mosques in Arakan, which now stands partly in ruin and requires immediate repairs and extension. (Source: "Repair Works of Maungdaw Jame Mosque Halted Again," Kaladan News, 21 June 2003)
Communal tension in Maungdaw Township
On 15 July 2003, in Nga Khuu Ra village, a fight between a monk called U Thu Ma Na and students from the Islamic school led to a riot between the Buddhist and Islamic communities within the township.
To deter this riot from escalating into all out violence, the authorities “invited” the community leaders to meet for a discussion. The meeting was held on 20 July at the monastery of Ahtat Puee Ma village, Maungdaw. Attendees were the Regional Commander of the Region 5 of the border security force, the Commander of the No.18 Military Intelligence, police, local peace and development council members and the communities’ leaders including the religious leaders.
On 15 August 2003, however, the local authorities had to intervene again to control the communal tension between Buddhist monks and students from the Islamic school. The authorities feared the tension could have developed into violence again. (Source: "Communal Tensions Almost Flare up to Violence," Narinjara, 15 August 2003)
Money extorted from farmers for model village
On 17 August 2003, it was reported that the Buthidaung TPDC Chairman extorted 250,000 kyat from 5 farmers under the pretext of establishing a model village for Buddhist settlers.
On the 9 August, under orders from the TDPC Chairman, a survey team headed by an officer named San Mya Kyaw, went to Nanragoon village in Buthidaung township to make a field survey of the farmland, measuring 22 acres, to establish the model village. The TPDC then seized the land which belonged to the 5 Rohingya farmers as follows:
(1) Mohamed Yunus, son of Fayas, 4 acres;
(2) Mohamed Tayub, son of Golam Hussain, 3 acres;
(3) Farid Ullah, son of Gulam Hussain, 4.6;
(4) Abul Hussain, son of Hussain, 6 acres; and
(5) Gura Meah, son of Hussain, 4.4 acres.
A few days later the 5 farmers approached the Chairman and requested their farmland be spared from the project, their request was granted on the payment of a bribe of 250,000 kyat. (Source: "Money Extorted from Farmers for Model Village," Kaladan News, 19 August 2003)
Nasaka collecting paddy from farmers for model villagers in northern Arakan
On 9 December 2003, the Nasaka (Border Security Force) of Maungdaw Township in Arakan State started collecting paddy from Rohingya farmers to give to Buddhists in Natala, a model village, according to villagers. The Nasaka authorities verbally ordered the villagers to pay 2.5 tawn (1 tawn = 35 kgs) of paddy per acre from the farmers although in practice they collected 2,000 kyat per acre. Villagers doubted that all the money went to the model villagers.
The model village was constructed for Buddhist settlers using forced labor from Rohingya villages. In addition they had to supply funds and house building materials for model villagers even after their lands were confiscated. (Source: "Nasaka Collecting Paddy from Farmers For Model Villagers In Northern Arakan," Kaladan News, 30 December 2003)
Further clashes in Maungdaw town
On 11 December 2003, local women and students clashed with local police in the city’s predominantly Rohingya Muslims area of Myo Ma Kayan Dan (Shikdar Para) in Maungdaw town in Arakan State. The authorities were trying to evacuate the 26 houses that they had previously given orders to evacuate in July 2003 (see previous incident).
The Maungdaw TPDC Chairman Captain Hla Pho accompanied by some policemen went to Myo Ma Kayan Dan village to evacuate the 26 houses. It was reported that while the policemen were trying to destroy one of the houses, some students from nearby State High School of Maungdaw Town and women from the village put up a resistance, resulting in a series of pitched battles between the two sides. The police later fled the scene. A woman, Somira Begum was slightly injured in the clash.
Later, having heard about the clash, more policemen came from their camp as reinforcements. As a result, more students from the nearby high school joined the clash. According to reports of the villagers, due to mass involvement of students in the clash, police and SPDC authorities no longer dared to continue their evacuation program and retreated to their camp. The next day, the village PDC Chairman, together with some villagers, was called to the Township PDC Office to resolve the problem, but the outcome was unknown at the time the incident was reported.
"We, as human beings we have the rights to stay in our village. Despite rehabilitation, they forced us into the streets to demolish our society" said a woman who participated in the clash. (Source: "Move to Destroy Centuries Old Village Foiled," Kaladan News, 23 December, 2003)
Further restriction imposed on the freedom of movement of the Rohingya
On 21 December 2003, Kaladan News reported that the SPDC authorities had imposed severe restrictions on the movement of the Rohingya in Northern Arakan.
According to the report, for Rohingya to travel from Buthidaung to Maungdaw, a distance of 16 miles within the same locality, they have to obtain recommendation first from the VPDC paying 200 kyat, then Form 4, (which is normally used for foreigners) with recommendation from Township Immigration Office paying 500 kyat. After that they have to approach with all these papers and recommendations, to the Nasaka transit camp at the gate of Buthidaung town for its permission paying a further 200 kyat. Finally, they have to appear before the offices of TPDC and DPDC submitting all the relevant papers and recommendations for approval by paying bribes of 500 kyat and 200 kyat respectively.
According to a Rohingya businessman to make his return journey, he has to pay 200 kyat at the District Immigration office of Maungdaw. For staying 1 night at Maungdaw he has to pay 500 kyat to the Maungdaw Nasaka check post, 3 miles off the Maungdaw town, and another 500 kyat to the Buthidaung Nasaka transit camp.
Thus, a person has to pay a total of 2,800 kyat in order to get permission for a round-trip from Buthidaung to Maungdaw and vice versa, not including any other expenses. For a one-month resident permit it is necessary to pay 15,000 kyat to the Nasaka check post of Maungdaw. If any traveler is found to have not complied with the order they are imprisoned for 6 months with hard labor. (Source: "Further Restriction Imposed on the Freedom of Movement of the Rohingya," Kaladan News, 21 December 2003)
Persecution of Muslims - Partial List of Incidents for 2003
Anti-Muslim pamphlets distributed in Burma
On 5 July 2003, at around 8:30 pm, a group of USDA members distributed anti-Muslim pamphlets in Irrawaddy Division, according to a Buddhist merchant, speaking on condition of anonymity.
It was reported that Ye Kyi Township USDA members led by U Thein Aung distributed the pamphlets to the villages in Ye Kyi Township. Similarly, the USDA Myaung Mya Township members also distributed the anti-Muslim pamphlets to the villages in the Myaung Mya Township of Irrawaddy Division on 25 June 2003.
Some of the Muslim elders reported the matters to the Inspector of Ye Kyi police Station, U Tin Maung, who replied that they (the police) could not take any actions against the USDA members as their plans are supervised by the USDA central authorities.
The Muslims in Irrawaddy Division were reportedly in ‘fear and trembling’ over the possible brutalities planned by the USDA. (Source: "Anti-Muslim Pamphlets Distributed in Burma," Muslim Information Center of Burma, 20 July 2003)
Kawkareik check-point authorities arrested Burmese Muslims because they couldn’t extort money from them
On 26 July 2003, the authorities at the Kawkareik-Hlaing Wa Township check-point, Karen State, arrested and detained Muslim passengers traveling from Rangoon to Myawaddy who could not pay the amount of money demanded from them. According to A Buth Lar who was part of the group, Captain Myint Aung arrested him and 7 others. He was released after paying 200,000 kyat and having his ID card confiscated. The others remained detained. (Source: "Kawkareik Check-point Authorities Arrested Burmese Muslims Because They Couldn’t Demand Money from Them," MAN, 1 August 2003)
SPDC Authorities and DKBA Leaders are checking mosques for security reasons
On 1 August 2003, SPDC troops from IB 335 led by Lieutenant Commander Htu Win Naing and Immigration Officer Kyaw Min Naing went to the mosque in Minhla and asked when the mosque was built and who provides funds for running it. They also asked about the situation of people who come and go from the mosque.
The authorities told the mosque leaders that they were checking for the sake of security, as recounted by the son of U Maung Han, mosque leader's relative, in a phone conversation from Minhla Township, Bago Division with a member of MAN based in Mae Sot. This was not the first incident of the SPDC collecting information about mosques.
On 5 August 2003, DKBA Captain Thar Htoo met with mosque leaders in Hlaingbwe Township, Karen State and told them not to participate in politics. He told the leaders that politics is not their business. Moreover, Captain Thar Htoo indicated that if any problems occurred, the mosque would be set on fire, reported one of the mosque leaders. (Source: "SPDC authorities and DKBA leaders are checking mosques for security reasons," MAN, 16 August 2003)
Riot between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Pyinmana
On 19 July 2003, there was a riot between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Pyinmana Town in Mandalay Division of central Burma. The riot allegedly started after a quarrel between a Muslim shopkeeper and a Buddhist monk over the shopkeepers’ refusal to sell the monk rice. According to a report on the Democratic Voice of Burma the riot took place in front of the monastery and involved around 1000 people including about 30 to 40 monks. The mob threw stones at the mosque and attacked the Muslims. Some Muslim shops and houses were completely destroyed. Police quelled the riot and arrested Ms Daw Thet, the Muslim shopkeeper and some others, although the monks were not even questioned according to a lawyer from Rangoon. (Source: "Riot in Pyinmana, Mandalay Division," Democratic Voice of Burma, 21 July 2003)
Many people in Pyimana think that the riot was planned by the authorities, in order to divert the minds of the people when there was growing public resentment against the SPDC over the Depayin massacre. At least 9 Muslims were killed while their properties worth millions of dollars were destroyed. (Source: "SPDC Attempts to Divert People's Attention from Depeyin Massacre," Kaladan News, 26 July 2003)
Eleven dead, fourteen injured in religious riots in Kyaukse
On 19 October 2003, religious riots broke out at 6:00 pm between Buddhists and Muslims in Kyaukse, Mandalay Division. It was reported that 11 people, including a 1-year-old child and a pregnant woman were killed and 14 seriously injured. The riots were bought under control at around 11:00 pm by 4 Mandalay based army companies including No.14 Police Lone Htein [Riot] Battalion.
According to reports from AFP the disturbances started due to a minor dispute after a stone, which was part of a competition in the festivities for Buddhist Lent, was thrown into a monastery compound. This sparked anger among the monks who mistakenly believed the occupants of a nearby mosque were responsible. Several Muslims were injured in the following unrest, but the conflict was resolved. However exaggerated rumors of the incident spread to politically active monks in Mandalay, who then traveled to Kyauske and started the deadly riots and fires. (Source: "Monks Under Curfew," AFP, 4 November 2003)
During these riots, 2 Muslim mosques, 2 big stores, 26 houses and some cars and bicycles were torched and destroyed. Kyaukse Township police personnel and Pyithu Swan Arr Shin (people's voluntary forces) members who tried to control the riots were struck by catapults and rocks. One deputy superintendent of police and one Swan Arr Shin member were wounded in the attack.
The authorities cut off telephone lines and issued a temporary state of emergency and buses between Mandalay and Kyauske were reportedly stopped, according to a Mandalay resident. A curfew on the town was imposed. Residents living near a Muslim mosque in Mandalay were also issued warnings following the attacks in Kyauske. (Source: "11 Dead, 14 Injured in Religious Riots in Kyaukse," DVB, 22 October 2003)
Travel restrictions for Muslims
On 11 July 2003, U Win Kyaing (age 42) and Zaw Min Naing (age 35) were arrested by the border and immigration authorities at the Ye entrance checkpoint because they were holding Burmese ID that indicated that they were Muslims. This is according to U Aung Shwe who was traveling with them and is also Muslim. U Aung Shwe was not arrested as he had put his religion as Buddhist on his ID card and his face is similar to a Burmese face.
Other Burmese Muslims who work in Thailand also report they have to lie and pretend to be Buddhist because if they don’t it is very difficult for them to travel as Muslims. Many Burmese Muslims are reportedly registering as Buddhists in order to get Burmese IDs to travel and to pursue their education without trouble. (Source: "Islamic Who Converted to Buddhist Will Get Burmese Identity Card and Easy for Them to Travel," MAN, 12 August 2003)
Muslim flees Burma after confiscation of his home
In November 2003, a male Muslim resident of Kyaikmayaw in Mon State fled Burma for Mae Sot after the Burmese government confiscated his home without compensation or explanation. (Source: "Muslims Flee Religious Persecution," Irrawaddy, 11 November 2003)
Anti-Muslim attacks in southern Burma
On 25 and 26 October 2003, a group, including Buddhist monks, raided the properties of local Muslims in Thinganggyun Township attacking the owners and destroying property. One business man U Htay Kywe was hospitalized and had 9 stitches for the wounds on his head. The attackers also poured petroleum on him whilst demanding money, but they didn’t burn him according to a local resident. On 26 October, the group continued attacking the owners and employees of a local Muslim restaurant.
Authorities arrested the attackers although most local people believe that it was the authorities that systematically organized the assaults. (Source: "Anti-Muslim Attacks Spread to Southern Burma," DVB, 29 October 2003)
Muslims flee religious persecution
In November 2003, reports were received from Muslims who had relocated to Mae Sot of the religious persecution and confiscation of property that forced them to flee Burma.
Thuya Aung, owner of First Winner Company, an import-export firm in Rangoon, fled to Mae Sot, when his company was reportedly confiscated by Military Intelligence because it was owned by a Muslim. Before confiscating his business assets, officers took possession of his business passport and identification card, and seized computers and company documents. They checked his documents and released him after finding no faults on the condition he didn’t sue them. He fled to avoid further arrest. (Source: "Muslims Flee Religious Persecution," Irrawaddy, 11 November 2003)
USDA sets village on fire and kidnaps 32 Muslim students in Sagaing Division
On 25 January 2003, a Muslim village was set ablaze and 32 Muslim students abducted. The attack was reportedly carried out by a large group of people led by around 20 men disguised as Buddhist monks, who were said to be members of USDA. Enn Ywa village in Katha Township consists of 120 Muslim houses and over 110 Muslim students study a religious education at the madrasah (religious school). The group entered the village and burnt 45 houses, a mosque and the madrasah to ashes. The whereabouts of the students remains unknown according to their relatives in Mae Sot. (Source: "USDA Sets Village on Fire and Kidnaps 32 Muslim Students in Sagaing Division," Muslim Information Center of Burma, 4 February 2003)
Anti-Muslim riots take place in Burma
On 6 March 2003, a group of people reportedly set ablaze about 15 Muslim houses including a mosque and a madrasah in Kant Ba Lu Township of Sagaing Division in upper Burma. It is reported that a quarrel took place between a Muslim from Htan Taw village and a non-Muslim also from the same village, while both of them were driving their carts. The non-Muslim organized some of his friends and started to torch the houses. Htan Taw village consists of about 120 houses, half of which belong to the Buddhist community. Local authorities neither took actions against the lawbreakers nor issued any order prohibiting them from conducting similar aggressions in the future. (Source: “Anti-Muslim riots take place in Burma,” Muslim Information Center, 20 March 2003)
SPDC authorities ban Muslims from praying in Burma.
On 14 June 2003, SPDC Military Intelligence officers in Tenessarim Division allegedly ordered the Muslim community to close down their Jamaat Khana (houses where Muslims make prayers), according to a merchant from inside Burma who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Chief of the MI No.6, Captain Saw Win and Police Intelligence Chief U Thaung Aye of Kaw Thaung Myo (town) ordered Muslims to close down two Jamaat Khana in Kaw Thaung Myo. One Jamaat Khana was in Shwe Pyi Tha village tract about 4 miles away from Kaw Thaung and the other was on Aung Thu Kha street of Kaw Thaung Myo..
Jamaat Khana are used for prayers by those who cannot go to far away mosques. These Jamaat Khana were sometimes used as religious schools for very young children. (Source: "SPDC Authorities Ban Muslims from Praying in Burma," Muslim Information Center, 28 July 2003)
SPDC authorities ban Muslims’ prayers in Burma
On 14 July 2003, Major Soe Aung, commander of the Burma Navy No.302 and Peace and Development Council authorities of Ye Kan Taung Kyun Zu in Mergui Township reportedly ordered the Muslim elders of the island-villages not to make Azan (the calls for prayers) in the mosques. The Ye Kan Taung (Kyun Zu) archipelago consists of 12 villages. (Source: "SPDC Authorities Ban Muslims’ Prayers in Burma," Muslim Information Center Burma, 1 August 2003)
Closure and Destruction of Mosques and Madrasahs - Partial List of Incidents for 2003
Islamic school demolished in western Burma
On 9 March 2003, the local junta authority of Buthidaung Township in Rakhine State reportedly knocked down a madrasah.
The madrasah situated at Rwak-nyo-daung village was built close to a Muslim graveyard. The local Burmese junta officials, claiming that the madrasah was illegal since it was constructed in the premises of the graveyard, demolished the main structure of the school.
The executive committee members of the school board including Rabiullah, son of Muhammad, were charged with illegal construction of religious schools without the proper permission of the Department of Religious Affairs.
About 60 students were enrolled in the madrasah when it was demolished. (Source: "Islamic School Demolished in Western Burma," Narinjara, 26 March 2003)
6 madrasah committee members and teachers arrested
On 15 March 2003, Nasaka officials in Buthidaung Township arrested 3 committee members and 3 teachers of a madrasah Rwa Nyo Daung village. The reasons for the arrest were believed to be that an extension to the madrasah was built without obtaining authorization from the Nasaka. The 6 people arrested were reportedly tortured through various methods including electric shock. At the same time, it was reported that the Nasaka authorities forced the villagers to destroy the entire madrasah building on 17 March, which resulted in 150 students having no school.
The six persons arrested were the following:
(1) Mostafa Kamal, ex-chairman of Rwak Nyo Daung village;
(2) Salamat Ullah, member of the madrasa committee;
(3) The Chairman of the Rwak Nyo Daung VPDC;
(4) Maulana Ashraf Ullah, teacher;
(5) Maulana Nurul Islam, teacher; and
(6) Maulana Fayas Ahamed, teacher.
(Source: "6 Madrassa committee members and teachers arrested," Kaladan News, 21 April 2003)
On 10 September 2003, five out of the six arrested were reportedly sentenced to seven years in jail for building the extension on the madrasah. Court No.2 of Buthidaung Township, Arakan State was responsible for sentencing the five people. The only person not appearing on the list of those sentenced to jail time was Maulana Narul Islam, who reportedly ran away to Bangladesh. (Source: "Five Rohingya Sentenced for 7 Years Jail in Buthidaung," Kaladan News, 10 October 2003)
SPDC authorities destroy mosque in Burma
In March 2003, an over-200-year-old mosque in Kyauk Pyu township of Arakan State was destroyed by the township authorities, according to reports. The mosque was situated in Pyin Pyu Maw village only about 2 kilometers away from the heart of Kyauk Pyu. (Source: "Anti-Muslim Riots Take Place in Burma," Muslim Information Center, 20 March 2003)
Demolition of a mosque in Sittwe
On 21 July 2003, it was reported that the Arakan State Peace and Development Council Chairman, Major General Maung Oo, ordered the local police to demolish a mosque in Akyab (Sittwe), the capital of Arakan state. The mosque was built in front of Akyab University without permission from Burma's Ministry of Religion and the high court had ruled for its demolition.
During the demolition of the mosque, members of the Muslim community started a riot, which resulted in a skirmish with police in which several people were injured including police and Muslim women. The mosque was completely demolished by the police.
After the demolition of the mosque, the Muslim leader of that area informed a powerful Muslim businessman, Shafi Aullar, from Singapore of the incident. He is a business partner of Re Naing Win, the son of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, and they have a large number of business interests in both Burma and Singapore. He is also close to Khin Nyunt due to his large number of investments in Burma.
The business man informed Khin Nyunt of the demolition of the mosque who then ordered its immediate rebuilding. At the time of this report the mosque was in the process of being reconstructed under the supervision of Major General Maung OO. (Source: "Arakan State Peace and Development Council Chairman in Deep Trouble after Demolition of a Mosque in Arakan," Narinjara, 9 September 2003)
Arson attack on a mosque and its guesthouse
On 4 November 2003, it was reported that a group of Rakhine youths made an arson attack on Abdul Salam Dowashi mosque and its guesthouse at around 9:00 pm in Zabor Para village, Buthidaung Township, Arakan State.
According to a man who was praying in the mosque, 4 Rakhine youths, backed by police and the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) members secretly entered the mosque compound and torched it and its guesthouse while the mosque goers were praying inside. The blaze in the mosque was brought under control within a few minutes by those praying in the mosque. Yet, it took half an hour to extinguish the fire, by which point the guesthouse was completely gutted.
Most of the villagers believed that SPDC authorities and USDA members instigated this arson attack, in order to create riots between the 2 communities. The police investigation has yet to find any clue or culprits, however villagers prefer not to inquire further into the incident to avoid problems in the future according to a local resident. (Source: "Arson Attack to A Mosque and Its Guesthouse," Kaladan News, 2 December 2003)
Arson against the madrasah in Maungdaw
On 8 November 2003, an unidentified group reportedly burned down a thatched bamboo Islamic religious school near Myo Ma Cinema in downtown Maungdaw. Local residents indicated that they felt the arson was an effort to invoke conflict between the Buddhist and Muslim communities. Yet, community leaders reportedly prevented any conflict from occurring. At the time of the report, the authorities had not found anyone responsible for the arson attack. The fire caused 50 students to lose their school. (Source: "Arson against the Islamic School in Maungdaw," Narinjara, 23 November 2003)
Following this event all mosques in Maungdaw town were under police guard during prayer time for the month of Ramadan. During the same week, 2 other thatched roofed mosques on the outskirts of Maungdaw town were set on fire by groups of youth however, they were saved by those worshipping in the mosques. (Source: "Mosques Under Guards During Prayer Times," Kaladan News, 24 November 2003)
Eyewitness account of riot in Kyaukse broadcast on Radio Free Asia
"When I ran there to see, the firemen had already put out the fire, so we approached further and looked and we saw the bones and the flesh. We saw a small skull. There was a skeleton of an adult and a skull. I heard the people near there saying that the dead woman was pregnant," he said, adding that he broke down in tears when he realized the dead woman was his own niece. "I saw a small skull that could be assumed to be a child's skull and a larger skeleton."
The man also reported seeing many more corpses of people who had died in the fires. "Soon we saw one corpse after another. They were taking them away to the hospital."
"Even though at first I thought it was impossible to destroy the mosque that was opposite the police station, later my next-door neighbor telephoned me. My family also told me that people were destroying the Su Gyi mosque."
The man said he was forced to take refuge in a neighbor’s house. "Later, I heard noises. It was the sound of a crowd marching toward us. They were shouting, ‘Yay, yay.’ Well, it was impossible to stay inside this house anymore. So I went to the opposite house, which is a Buddhist family's house, to ask for help. I said,' Please give my wife and children permission to seek shelter. Please help,’ and so they said, ‘your entire family should come. We will help you.’ And so we sent the children."
"They allowed us to bury them around 1:30 pm. We brought all the burned bodies of 11 people, including the fetus, in bags. We went to the Muslim cemetery. We buried them. We buried them only on the 20th, around 2:00 pm," he said, adding that many of the bags contained body parts that were difficult to sort.
The eyewitness told RFA there had previously been no tension between the two communities, who had mingled freely throughout the district. "We have been living together with love, laughter, and happiness. When the incident took place, the Buddhists helped us and only they helped and hid our families as well," he said. (Source: "Eyewitness account of riot in Kyaukse," Radio Free Asia, 29 October 2003)
10.4 SPDC Control over Buddhism
Theravada Buddhism is the majority religion of Burma and as such, the SPDC aligns itself with Buddhism as a way of maintaining legitimacy, whilst at the same time controlling and limiting the activities of the Sanga. Buddhist monks have always played a key role in shaping civil society and promoting harmony based on the teaching of the Buddha Gotama. However the ruling junta denies this role and systematically curtails any activities by Buddhist clergy that promote human rights and political freedom. The SPDC strictly controls the organizations and activities of the Sanga. Since the late 1990’s, the SPDC has only allowed nine state recognized monastic orders. All other organizations of monks are banned. These nine order are under the authority of the State sponsored State Monk Coordination Committee (Sangha Maha Navaka Committee – SMNC). Monks must follow a code of conduct, infractions of which are punished by criminal penalties and monks can also be tried by military tribunals for “activities inconsistent with and detrimental to Buddhism,” (source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003). In some major temples in Mandalay, Moulmein and Rangoon, monks’ activities are monitored by military personnel who are hired by the Ministry of Home Affairs specifically for this purpose, (source: Hongsar Banya, “Buddhist Monks: Stay Away from Politics," Kao Wao, 14 August 2003).
The Government works to control monks who may be involved in political activities through travel restrictions, arrests, pressure on Buddhist leaders to expel ‘undisciplined’ monks. The Government also forces monks to sign documents indicating they will stay away from politics. Certain monasteries are also prohibited from allowing members of political parties to be overnight guests. Adherence to these rules is strictly monitored and in the last week of July 2003, Burmese secret agents searched the Suvannabumi Mon Temple in Thaketa town, looking for evidence linking the monks to anti-Rangoon activities. In August 2003, monks in Moulmein, Mon State were ordered by the SPDC to stay away from engaging in politics and stay inside the monastery in the event of any 'people strikes' in the town. (Source: Hongsar Banya, “Buddhist Monks: Stay Away from Politics," Kao Wao, 14 August 2003)
Since 1990 more than 100 monks have been arrested for supporting democracy and human rights, half of these have reportedly been released, some are still serving life sentences. These reportedly include the Venerable U Kalyana of Mandalay, a member of the Aung San Red Star Association and the Venerable U Kawiya of the Phayahyi monastery in Mandalay. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003)
The SPDC uses the imagery and language of Buddhism in an effort to increase its legitimacy both nationally and internationally. Government officials are frequently depicted by state controlled media paying homage to Buddhist monks and making donations at pagodas. There are reports that in 2003, the SPDC conducted large Buddhist ceremonies on its western borders in order to lengthen its rule and ward off invasion by neighbouring 'Muslim' countries (source: “Buddhist Rites to Prevent Foreign Invasion!" Narinjara, 2 September 2003). Although no links can be established, there has been speculation that the Government has used Buddhism to legitimize its own agenda on a number of occasions. For example, monks, or people dressed as monks have been involved in many of the acts of violence against Muslims and in the Depayin incident on 30 May (see chapter on assembly and association for more information about the incident at Depayin). The prominent Mandalay monk, Win Rathu, nick- named the ‘fighting monk’ for his stand against the country’s Muslims, has also been denounced by some as just an agent of the Government, who is espousing SPDC ideologies rather than Buddhist ones. (Source: Ozturk, Cem, “Myanmar's Muslim Sideshow," Asia Times, 20 October 2003)
The SPDC’s support of Buddhism is also seen through the funding of two state Sangha universities in Rangoon and Mandalay. In addition, in 1998, the Government opened the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (ITBMU) in Rangoon to “share Burma's knowledge of Buddhism to the people of the world,” (source: International Religious Freedom Report 2003, U.S. Department of State, 18 December 2003). Throughout 2003, Burma was preparing for the fourth world Buddhist summit, scheduled to take place in 2004. The military regime awards prominent monks with religious titles every year. Yet, those who have spoken out against the Government are not considered to receive an award. One eminent monk asserted that the award ceremony is a method for the SPDC to cultivate support from the Buddhist population within the region (source: "Burmese SPDC Junta Award Religious Title to A Buddhist Monk in Bangladesh," Narinjara News, 11 March 2003).
As the SPDC uses Buddhism to boost its legitimacy it also uses it to discredit opposition groups. There were reports during the year of the junta ordering journals and magazines to print a story accusing members of exiled political groups of smuggling women’s sarongs printed with Buddhist symbols into the country. This allegation was rejected by members of the pro-democracy movement based on the Thai-Burma border. Specifically, U Bo Thaung, the former vice chair of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) indicated, "We will never use religion for our political gain." (Source: Kyaw Zwa Moe, “Junta Pushes Sarong Story," Irrawaddy, 24 October 2003)
Persecution of Buddhists - Partial List of Incidents for 2003
One monk killed in clash between monks and soldiers in Mandalay
On 27 October 2003, Burmese soldiers opened fire on Buddhist monks killing 1 and seriously wounding 2 others. The clash occurred during a demonstration by 1000 monks from New Masoeyein and Myataung monasteries who were demonstrating against the arrest of a monk named Ashin Werathu. Initial reports said he was arrested by authorities for delivering anti-Muslim sermons (source: "One Monk Killed in Clash between Monks and Soldiers in Mandalay," DVB 29 October 2003). However, more recent reports say that he was arrested for claiming that reports saying that Burmese exiled dissidents had been responsible for shipping women’s sarongs bearing Buddhist symbols, were fabricated by the military. According to Mandalay residents he had been warned on this issue personally by Maj. Gen. Ye Myint (Central Military Command Commander and Chairman of Mandalay Division Peace and Development Council) but he refused to comply and was then arrested. (Source: "Mandalay Said Calm Following Religious Unrest," DVB, 31 October 2003)
Novices at both monasteries were ordered to go home, their classes were closed and a curfew was imposed around the monasteries, with authorities ordering the monks not to leave the monasteries after 12:00 noon. The authorities also stopped the traditional religious Tazaungdaing festival according to local residents.
The authorities also detained 20 monks at Masoeyein Monastery and ordered them not to go out on the risk of being shot by the order of the military commander of Central Military Command, General Ye Myint. (Source: "One Monk Killed in Clash between Monks and Soldiers in Mandalay," DVB, 29 October 2003)
Clash between Buddhist monks and local police in Paukkhaung
On 12 August 2003, local police in Paukkhaung, Pegu Division searched Kyauksri monastery and demanded that one monk be defrocked to be arrested. Approximately 100 novice monks live in the monastery. The police had come to monastery to examine the guest list as there were visiting monks. The police claimed that the visiting monks were violating the rules of Buddhist lent by not remaining in their own monastery. The police attempted to detain some of the visiting monks. Instead, the monks detained the six policemen for the nigh and the army had to come to resolve the issue. After some discussion, the monks were released, the monastery ordered to close for 5 days, and the novices ordered to return to their homes. (Source: "Clash between Monks and Police in Paukkhaung," DVB, 14 August 2003)
Monks killed, money extorted from villagers in Kun-Hing
On 29 March 2003, SPDC troops from IB 246 shot dead a Buddhist monk and wounded another, who later died at a hospital, at Tham Loi Kong forest monastery 1-1/2 miles southwest of Kun-Hing town, Kun-Hing Township.
SPDC troops in camouflage military fatigues knocked at the door of the monastery at around 4:30 am. As the abbot monk opened the door and lit a candle, the SPDC troops entered the monastery and without mentioning a word shot dead the abbot monk. The abbot monk was a Mon national, 83 years old and carried a monk title U Uttama. He had been living at the monastery for 4 years and 9 months together with 2 novices.
Zao Long Kaw (age 43), 1 of 2 novice monks saw the incident and recognized the SPDC troops. He fled the monastery but was wounded as the troops shot after him. He ran to Loi Kong village, about 1 mile west of the monastery, and was sent to the hospital in Kun-Hing town by the villagers, who also immediately reported the incident to the SPDC troops of IB 246. The other novice monk (age 13), crept away and escaped without being seen by the SPDC troops.
The wounded novice monk died at the hospital at around 7:00 pm that evening. Before he died he confirmed it was SPDC troops who shot him and the abbot monk and that among the troops he clearly recognized Capt. Than Naing Oo of Co.3 who had often visited the monastery in the past.
After they had taken care of the bodies of the monks, about 15 leaders and elders of Loi Kong village were summoned to the IB 246 base by the battalion commander. The commander told the villagers, “Concerning the case in which Shan soldiers shot dead our Burman monk, I will help cover it up, but you Loi Kong villagers must find 200,000 kyat of money for me. I will report it to my superiors so that the news does not spread”. The villagers dared not argue, but collected the money among them and gave it to the commander within 15 days. (Source: "Monks killed, money extorted from villagers in Kun-Hing," SHRF monthly report, SHRF, May 2003)
Buddhist Novice monks robbed of their alms in Kaeng Tung
On the 8 November 2003, 3 Buddhist novice monks who were returning from begging alms were robbed of their alms by SPDC troops at Pha Yaang Gate, in Kaeng-Tung town. Buddhists in Kaeng-Tung town had organized an alms-giving ceremony to which they invited all Buddhist monasteries in the Township to come and receive alms. Hundreds of monks from surrounding villages came to the ceremony and returned with bowls and bags full of alms.
Novice monks, Saang Suk (age 11), Saang Khan (age 10) and Saang Long (age 9), from Seng Murng monastery, about 1 mile west of the town, were stopped by 2 of the 7-8 SPDC troops. The SPDC troops searched the novice monks and took away all the money and some food among the alms before they let them go. The specific extortions were as follows:
(1) Saang Suk, lost 200 kyat, 1 packet of meat and 1 packet of sticky rice;
(2) Saang Khan, lost 200 kyat, 2 packets of pork and 1 packet of sticky rice; and
(3) Saang Long, lost 100 kyat, 1 packet of sausages and 1 packet of sticky rice.
(Source: "Buddhist novice monks robbed of their alms in Kaeng-tung," SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, February 2004)
Table of Contents Facts on Human Rights Violations in Burma 2003