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Images Asia Report: Muslims in Burm

Subject: Images Asia Report: Muslims in Burma Part 1/2 

May 1997

I   M   A   G   E   S      A   S   I   A


"Burmese Citizens Beware!"

"... Malaysia and Indonesia were once Buddhist countries in history, but
unfortunately the Muslims used(their) methods (to expand their religion) so
successfully that they have become Muslim countries; Buddhism has
disappeared from these countries....  Bear in mind that the four social
causes of the SLORC must be accomplished...."

- excerpts from an anti-Muslim pamphlet in Burmese, distributed in Rangoon
prior to October 1996

A plea to Asean:

"Even if we can't fight with guns, we'll fight with words. We will tell the
whole world what is happening to us.

"The SLORC is only good at fighting.  The countries who are supporting the
SLORC don't know what the SLORC is doing. I want ASEAN countries to know
what the SLORC is doing.  If Burma enters ASEAN, we will have to fight.  We
won't surrender. We hope ASEAN won't let them in.

"We are so disappointed that Muslim countries are supporting the SLORC.  Why
are they doing this?  There are 7 million Muslims in Burma; why aren't they
looking at us?  Please send this news to them.  Today we are suffering
because of the actions of our Muslim brothers in Indonesia and Malaysia."

- Muslim refugee from Duplaya District, Karen State, March 1996

Time For Change

"A whole book can be written to substantiate the anti-Muslim movement
existing in Myanmar and the authorities turning a blind eye, not realising
that this can lead to very dangerous and disasterous consequences.  Let
saner thoughts prevail."
- Muslim observer of the riots in Mandalay, March 1996

MAY 1997

Executive Summary
Other Areas
Duplaya District,  Karen State 
Excerpts of Statements from Burmese Opposition Groups
Conclusions and Recommendations
Appendix:  List of monks who have died in prison


This documentation has been compiled to summarize existing information about
recent attacks on Muslims in Burma.  References within the report have been
provided wherever possible.  In order to protect the identities of refugees
and those inside Burma who have given information or opinions, personal
names have been omitted or changed.  The authors would like to thank
BurmaNet and Burma Centrum Nederlands for sharing their information on the
subject, as well as the Muslim Liberation Organisation of Burma (MLOB)  and
the All Burma Young Monks Union (ABYMU).  The authors would also like to
thank those Burmese who assisted with translating and finding information.
For reasons of security, they cannot be named.  A great deal more
information is needed to answer the many questions that still remain about
what has happened in Muslim communities in Burma in recent months.  We urge
others to enlarge the search for this information and make the full story

Executive Summary

Burma has a long and unfortunate history of discrimination against its
Muslim citizens.  With precedents for communal violence set in the past, the
State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) have found it expedient on
numerous occasions to exploit religious and ethnic tension, especially when
it can be directed towards Muslim people, to divide the public and distract
attention from other political and social issues.

Two very trenchant examples of the SLORC's real attitude towards Muslims
have come to light in 1997.  During an offensive against the Karen National
Union (KNU) in Karen State during February and March 1997, Muslims were
explicitly targeted for persecution.  Acts of violence, destruction, and
sacrilege perpetrated by SLORC soldiers against Burmese Muslims, their
mosques and their properties, drove many to flee as refugees from their
homes and seek temporary sanctuary in Thailand.  

In early March, attacks on Muslims and their properties broke out in
Mandalay and other Burmese cities.  The authorities did not take decisive
action to stop violence, leaving terrified Muslim communities to defend
themselves.  In fact, the SLORC are widely suspected of having actually
instigated the events to deflect focus from a looming crisis between
themselves and the Burmese Sangha (Buddhist clergy). Given the SLORC's
history of creating religious unrest as a distraction in times of economic
and political turmoil, it should be asked what role they have played in
inciting or even orchestrating the March anti-Muslim attacks.

Now that Burma has been accepted into ASEAN, the ASEAN nations, particularly
those which have significant Muslim populations, have a role to play in
pressuring SLORC to treat Muslims and all ethnic and religious minorities in
accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  We urge ASEAN
members to demand further investigation into situations occurring between
February and April 1997 in Muslim communities, to determine where the real
responsibility for recent unrest lies.  As long as Burmese Muslim
communities are deprived of the benefit of full protection under the law,
Muslim people in Burma will live in fear and uncertainty.  

This following information has been compiled from testimonies of witnesses,
statements, and other documentation of abuses against Muslims in Burma.  


In Burma today, there are estimated to be approximately seven million
Muslims.  Large numbers of Indians of both Muslim and Hindu faiths migrated
to Burma during the colonial period.  Many were employed by the British in
the colonial administration, while others became traders, landowners, and
money lenders.  Generally accorded higher status by the British, the Indians
were often resented by the Burman population and frequently became targets
of Burman anti-colonialist actions.

Muslims in Burma have frequently been the victims of discrimination.
According to Burma-specialist Martin Smith, "Even today, although no one
likes to admit it, there is an underlying prejudice by many government
officials and Burmese Buddhists in general against Christians and ethnic
minority groups, such as the Karens or Kachins, whom they still identify
(sometimes in the state-controlled media) as supporting the British under
colonial rule.  However, it is the Muslims of Arakan -- and inhabitants of
ethnic Indian origin in general -- who have clearly borne the brunt of this
resentment."  (Martin Smith, "The Muslim 'Rohingyas' of Burma,"  paper
delivered at Conference of the Burma Centrum Nederlands, 11 December 1995,
and Human Rights Watch/Asia, Update on the Rohingya situation in Bangladesh
and Burma, 6 October 1996.)

Both in 1978 and in 1991, the Burmese army launched campaigns which Muslim
leaders claim were aimed at forcing the Muslim population out of Burma.  The
campaigns resulted both times in the arrival of hundreds of thousands of
Muslim refugees from Burma into Bangladesh, and were accompanied by gross
human rights violations.  While the UNHCR is completing a repatriation
scheme for over 200,000 Muslim refugees in Bangladesh, the situation in
Burma itself has not fundamentally changed:  Muslims in Arakan (Rakhine)
State are still discriminated against, are not entitled to Burmese
citizenship, and their freedom of movement is restricted.  Human Rights
Watch/Asia stated in October 1996 that forced labour in Arakan State "has
increased in many areas to an average of 20 days per month, and that the
confiscation of land and forced relocation of Muslim villages has also
increased in Maungdaw township."  Freedom of movement for Muslims in their
own area is severely restricted.  (At the time o
f writing, Muslims from Akyab, Arakan State, were only able to travel to
Rangoon if they could pay 120,000 kyat for a black-market plane ticket; the
normal ticket price is just over 600 kyat.)

The SLORC has often tried to stir up religious and racial tensions in Burma
in order to divide the population and divert attention from other political
and economic concerns.  In 1988, the SLORC provoked anti-Muslim riots in
Taunggyi and Prome during the pro-democracy movement.  In May 1996,
anti-Muslim literature widely believed to have been written by the SLORC was
distributed in four towns in Shan State, leading to violent incidents.  In
September 1996, the SLORC razed a 600-year old mosque in Arakan State and
used the rubble to pave roads between new military base camps in the area.
The SLORC also conducted an anti-Muslim campaign during the February-March
1997 offensive in Karen State.  Several mosques were destroyed, Korans
ripped up or burned, and Muslims were driven out of Karen State.  

Most recently, the SLORC have been accused of instigating attacks against
Muslims and of exacerbating existing tensions between the Muslim and
Buddhist communities in Central Burma.  In March 1997, it was reported that
anti-Muslim riots broke out in several towns and cities.  Incidents
involving monks and Muslims occurred in Mandalay, Mon Ywa, Moulmein, Kyauk
Phyu, Magwe Division, and Rangoon between 15 and 28 March.  In the English
language Thai newspaper, The Nation, a picture was published of monks
attacking a mosque while Burmese security troops looked on, doing nothing to
stop the destruction.  

Muslim and Buddhist organisations have accused the SLORC of redirecting
these riots, which began as demonstrations by monks in Mandalay over other
issues.  The monks were demanding the release of monks from prison, and
awaiting official answers from the SLORC about reported damage to the
revered Maha Myatmuni pagoda Buddha-statue.  

Muslim organizations from Burma are demanding to know why the SLORC did not
take action during the riots; and why predominantly Muslim countries in
ASEAN continue to support the SLORC, even allowing the SLORC to join ASEAN,
given the SLORC's persecution of Muslims in Burma.


Mandalay area:
1. Kaindan Mosque
2. Waukhan Mosque
3. Thanlan Mosque
4. Kungyan Hlwa Daung 
5. Jame Mosque, Amarapura
6. Another mosque in Amarapura
7. Payagyi Mosque
8. Panset Mosque
9. Aledaung Mosque
10. Ashechore Mosque
11. Anauk Choke Mosque
12. Dunun Mosque
13. Seinpan Mosque
14. Panlachan Mosque

1. Surti Mosque
2. Bengali Mosque
3. One mosque, name unknown

Pegu Division:
1. Surati mosque, Prome
2. Kharkahr mosque
3. Shwekyarbin mosque
4. 3 mosques confirmed damaged in Pegu, no names given

1. Yankin (Kanbe) Mosque
2. Pazundaung Mosque (twice)
3. Eidgah Mosque
4. 48th Street Mosque & school
5. Myiningone Mosque
6. Sanchaung Mosque
7. Two mosques in Kyimyindaing 
8. Ayethakar quarter mosque in Ahlone township
9. Wartan Street mosque
10. Bangarlisu mosque, Thein Pyu Road
11. No. 7 Quarter mosque, South Okkalapa township
12. Muslim school at Tharkaeta township
1. Inside of mosque and Muslim school destroyed
Gaw Bay:  		
1. Mosque destroyed
Naw Bu:  		
1. Mosque destroyed

Day Nga Yin:  	
1. Mosque destroyed

Kyaung Don: 	
1. Mosque destroyed

1. Mosque & Muslim school destroyed

Pa Glaw Ni:  	
1. Mosque valuables looted, placed in Buddhist temple, then wooden mosque



Events in Mandalay sparked the nation-wide unrest that occurred in March.
The SLORC and many of the press reports have portrayed the March riots as
simply the result of communal conflict over a sexual harassment case
involving a Buddhist woman and a Muslim man.  The unmarried woman was not
raped, but publicly humiliated by unwelcome attention from the man, who
tried to take her hand against her will.  The case had been settled to the
satisfaction of all the parties concerned before the riots occurred. After
negotiation with local Ya Wa Ta (LORC) authorities, the Muslim family agreed
to give the Buddhist family 30,000 kyat as a settlement.  Nonetheless, the
incident was used to inflame anger against Muslims during the March
disturbances.  Reports from Buddhist clergy and local people at the time of
the riots, however, state that Buddhist-Muslim conflicts were only used to
deflect attention from the real sources of crisis:  long-simmering conflict
between the SLORC and the Mandalay Sangha (monks).
 Monks in Mandalay began organising to protest over a period of months,
following increasing pressure on the Sangha from the SLORC.  The following
is a chronology of some key events:
* In April 1996, the SLORC issued Order 85 to restrict the movements of the
Sangha.  The order restricted members of political parties and their
families from being ordained.  Many young monks felt the order was unfair.
* During April and May five monks demonstrated, and three were subsequently
* September 1996 Lt. Gen. Myo Nyunt, Minister of Religion, sent a letter to
the senior monks' council demanding that all those who wished to be ordained
must receive approval from the SLORC.
* On 6 December 1996 (simultaneous with the student demonstrations in
Rangoon and Mandalay) the monks in Mandalay formed the "Thangha Thamagi",
which translates very roughly as "Sangha Group".
* On 5 February 1997 five monks traveling from Mandalay to Moulmein to
organise demonstrations were arrested at Thaton.
* Many monks and lay-people were angered when it was learned from those
recently released from prison in Mandalay that a total of 16 monks had died
under various circumstances during their imprisonment.  (See appendix for a
list of names).
* On 22 February 1997, representatives of the SLORC met with senior monks in
Mandalay to discuss rumours that young monks were planning demonstrations or
protests against the SLORC leadership.  The senior monks were asked to
control the younger monks and make sure that no disturbances occurred.
Following this, a number of monks who had been planning local demonstrations
were arrested.
* In March, dissatisfaction in the Sangha became focused on three issues:
1. The Mandalay monks accused the SLORC of trying to find sacred rubies
believed to give the bearer the power to defeat any enemy.  The rubies were
said to be hidden in one of six monasteries, among them Maha Myatmuni
(Payagyi), possibly inside the Maha Myatmuni Buddha statue itself.  As the
exact location of the rubies was unknown, all of these monasteries were
broken into by the SLORC.  (This was well-known, as the military guards the
monasteries.)  An inquest into this situation was ordered, and the Maha
Myatmuni Sayadaw (abbot) , U Pyin Ya Wan Tha, was requested to answer
questions from monks.  
2. Another reason for the monks' dissatisfaction with the SLORC may be found
in a rumour circulating in Mandalay.  When H.M. Suharto, the President of
Indonesia, visited Myanmar recently, he proposed to build a grand mosque in
Myanmar, patterned on a famous Indonesian mosque, as a gift for Burma's
accession to ASEAN.  It was rumoured that the SLORC had granted land held by
the Sangha in Mandalay as the site for the mosque's construction.  The
prospect of this seizure of Sangha lands further provoked the monks.
3. Mandalay monks also demanded a list of the names of all those monks
detained as well as their unconditional release.  Demonstrations were
planned for 13 or 14 March to protest the deaths of monks in custody, but
SLORC authorities learned of the plans and arrested monks and local leaders.
Demonstrations commenced later than planned, reportedly the evening of 15 or
16 March.
* On 16 March, 8,000 - 10,000 monks assembled to discuss the Maha Myatmuni
Sayadaw's  explanation of who was responsible for the break-ins at the six
monasteries.  At the end of the speech, some monks were not satisfied with
the explanation.  Soldiers attending the gathering surrounded the monks to
contain them, and it is believed some monks were killed and injured.
* After this date, the Sayadaw of Maha Myatmuni pagoda disappeared.  It was
later learned that the Sayadaw was put in protective custody by the SLORC,
as he was on the SLORC      "Pagoda Committee" and was custodian of the keys
of the six pagodas that were robbed. The abbot was hidden by SLORC, after he
admitted to having given the pagoda keys to SLORC officials at the monks'
meeting on 16 March, authorities apparently fearing further questions from
the clergy.  He was released during the Burmese New Year (Water Festival).
* In the late afternoon or evening of 16 March, persons said to be military
intelligence personnel dressed as monks led the monks to a nearby mosque.
They brought up the sexual harassment case involving the Muslim man,
angering monks who had not heard of the case, and started throwing bricks at
the mosque.  Some monks joined the military intelligence in the attack,
while others refused to participate and left.  The monks then moved on to
other monasteries and attacked them, while military personnel reportedly
stood by and even offered the monks bricks in some cases.  No local people
were reported to have joined in the first attacks, according to inside
sources, because it was obvious that the SLORC authorities had instigated
them.  Later some monks were said to be wearing army shorts under their robes.
 "On 16 March 1997 beginning at about 3:30 p.m. a mob of about 1,000/1,500
Buddhist monks and others shouted anti-Muslim slogans without an provocation
of any kind on the part of the Muslims.  They targeted the mosques first for
attack, followed by Muslim shop-houses and transportation vehicles in the
vicinity of mosques, damaging, destroying, looting, and trampling, burning
the religious books, committing acts of sacrilege.  The area where the acts
of damage, destruction, and lootings committed in the part of Mandalay is
known as Kaingdan.
 "The manner and methodical execution of the assault, attack, destruction,
and hauling away of the loot prove beyond doubt that the whole mission was
pre-planned with the full knowledge of the authorities concerned, if not
their sanction or approval.  It can be justifiably assumed that the persons
of lower rank had some kind of understanding with the culprits.  In spite of
several requests from the victims of the attacks, authorities responsible
for providing security and maintaining law and order looked on with folded
arms and allowed the rampage to continue for 6 hours, by which time four
mosques and 90 - 100 houses and shops of Muslims had been destroyed and
			- Witness to the riots in Mandalay
* On the 17 and 18 March, because of the reluctance on the part of the SLORC
authorities to contain the situation, the acts of destruction and looting
continued.  By the 18 March, 14 mosques and approximately 400 Muslim houses
and shops had been looted and destroyed, and in the evening, an 8 pm to 4 am
curfew was imposed in Mandalay.  By this time, unrest had spread to Rangoon
and other cities.
* Local authorities claimed that they did not take immediate action, as they
were trying to ascertain the true identities of the demonstrators and the
culprits responsible for the attacks on Muslim property.  Eventually shots
were fired into the air, and at least three monks were killed during the
course of the riots by ricocheted bullets.  In Mandalay, 100 monks were
arrested and detained.
 "...The government has a responsibility to protect the lives and properties
of all the citizens of the country.  Law enforcement authorities can never
be justified in looking on with folded arms and unconcern while crimes are
being committed... (W)hen the students of the Yangon Institute of Technology
started an agitation of protest, within two hours of the incident the
authorities contained it by rolling in the city tanks, armoured cars and
weapon carriers mounted with machine guns, Bren guns, etc. as a show of
strength and resolve to suppress attempts to disturb the prevailing peace in
the country, (so) why now silently (do they watch) with folded arms when the
religious edifices of a minority community (are destroyed)?"  
			- Witness to riots in Mandalay

In 1988, anti-Muslim riots also broke out in Prome, allegedly instigated by
the government.  According to Burma-specialist Bertil Lintner:

"The official account said that the violence began when some allegedly drunk
Muslim youth insulted a young Buddhist girl outside the Let Yway Cafe in the
town's market area, and it all escalated into virtual street battles.
Muslim houses and shops were attacked and burnt down.  A foreign diplomat in
Rangoon described a slightly different scenario in his dispatch back to his
government at the time:  'Other reports, however, insinuate that the
disturbances may have enlarged into anti-authority displays with their
communal component being of less importance.  It is evident from the press
reports that the police and security forces in Prome were unable to control
the crowds." 

"Already after the March demonstrations in Rangoon, some people in Prome had
begun organising anti-government groups.  The DDSI (Directorate of the
Defense Services Intelligence), apparently, had got wind of it, and this,
Prome residents say, was why their town was targeted for orchestrated
communal clashes."  (Bertil Lintner, Outrage, p. 82)

According to Muslim sources in Prome, who have asked to remain anonymous,
during the night of 24 March 1997, three mosques in the town of Prome, Pegu
division, were attacked by hundreds of monks.  During attacks on the Surati
mosque, the Kharkahr mosque, and the Shwekyarbin mosque, a total of
approximately 1,000 soldiers stood near the mosques and simply watched idly.
On the 24th and 25th, three other mosques in the town of Pegu were also
attacked.  After the first attacks in Prome, military authorities imposed a
curfew.  According to these sources, Prome has seven mosques for its
approximately 1,000 Muslim inhabitants.  Most of the population is Buddhist,

Sources also stated that SLORC soldiers entered the Muslim houses, saying
they wanted to save Muslim areas.  The Muslims do not trust the army, and
asked the soldiers to guard the mosques instead, telling them, "that is
where (the looting) is happening."   However, the soldiers did not protect
the mosques, which were guarded instead by the Muslims themselves, many
sleeping inside the mosques to keep them from being damaged.

Sources in Prome also said that some of those involved in the attacks were
put in jail, but all were released after one or two days.  According to
them, Muslims in Prome think that the government is behind the riots.  "It
is the government who did it, they try to change the people's minds, to get
their attention away from the anti-government demonstrations."

They further stated that many Muslim families left to stay with relatives in
Rangoon, as during the rioting, "Nobody (could) go out, everyone has to stay
in their houses."  Most of the Muslims in Prome are not rich, and they have
no weapons.


In October 1996, anti-Muslim leaflets were distributed in Rangoon, urging
Buddhists to boycott Muslim stores and not to marry Muslims.  The leaflets
accuse Muslims of wanting to expand their territory, predicting that once
the State of Islam has taken control of the Burmese nation, Burma will
become like other Southeast Asian countries, where Buddhism once flourished
but has been forsaken for Islam.  Similar leaflets were repeatedly
distributed in 1996 in Mandalay and Kalaw.  

>From the 15 to 28 March, damage to mosques and demonstrations by monks in
Rangoon were reported.  During the attacks on the mosques, those in the
surrounding Muslim communities lived in terror.  According to numerous
reports, many were too afraid to leave their homes, in some cases even to go
to work.  Again, sources in Rangoon claim that the authorities did nothing
to stop the destruction, standing aside and watching the looting as it
occurred. The following information concerning events in Rangoon comes from
Muslim sources in Rangoon requesting anonymity.

* At 4 p.m. on 22nd March 1997, about 40 monks came out of the Kaba Aye
pagoda compound, which is under the very tight control of the SLORC army,
and where the Sangha Mahanayaka (SLORC-controlled Nationwide Buddhist Monks
Committee) is based.  They forcibly stopped two "Dyna" Japanese-made pick-up
buses from the No. 49 Bus Line and asked the passengers to get out, then
took the buses.  About 30 minutes later, a group of men in regular civilian
clothes, but with shaved heads like monks, came out of the same compound and
left in two Dyna cars.
* At around 8 p.m., army officers and soldiers from the Office of Tactical
Command came to the Kanbe Mosque in Yankin township.  They told the Muslim
people taking care of the mosque that they (the soldiers) would provide
security, and that the Muslims should return home.  The Muslim leaders
believed these words, and the people locked the mosque and returned to their
homes.   During the night, the mosque was attacked by the Buddhist monks.
The troops arrived at the mosque just after the attack finished. 
* One of the monks participating in the attack did not put his robes on
properly, and they later became loose and fell down.  Onlookers nearby
noticed he was wearing the army-issue underpants which are usually worn by
soldiers.  The group leader of the monks was seen holding some kind of
mobile communication equipment.
* On the same day, local authorities of the Army Tactical Command came to
the BMO mosque in Thingangyun township and met with Muslim leaders. At the
meeting, the officials said that they would ensure the security of the
mosque and urged the Muslims to return home.  They also said that if
Buddhist monks arrived at the mosque, Muslims should appeal to them to not
cause trouble.  The authorities further stated that that if the monks could
not be persuaded to leave, they should be allowed to attack the mosque until
they were satisfied that they had inflicted enough damage, and SLORC would
take responsibility for reparations.   Members of the Muslim community
attending this meeting refused to accept with the authorities' recommendations. 
* Also the same day, Lt. Gen. Myo Nyunt, Minister for Religious Affairs,
held a meeting with the leaders of six Muslim organisations.  He accused the
NLD of being behind the attacks and said that the aim of NLD destructionists
was to prevent the ASEAN countries from granting Burma membership.
* On 23 March 1997, monks attacked the Bangarlisu mosque on Thein Phyu road,
hurling stones at it.  Observers reported that some had pistols and guns
beneath their robes. 
* Also on 23 March, around 50 monks were spotted roaming around Rangoon.
Some held walkie-talkies and what appeared to be mobile phones. 
* On the same day, authorities of the Tactical Command came to the Mosque at
135th street in Rangoon and told the Muslim people that nobody was allowed
to sleep overnight at the mosque as the soldiers were taking responsibility
for its security.  Muslim leaders replied that previously the security
personnel, including the soldiers, usually arrived only after attacks, so
they could not accept that arrangement.  The army officer replied that these
attacks were planned and executed by the NLD.