Army Restores Calm in Meikhtila after Deadly Sectarian Clashes
MEIKHTILA — Smoldering debris and charred buildings littered the Muslim quarter of Meikhtila in central Burma on Saturday as the army was brought in to end days of violence.
Relative calm returned to the town on Saturday after the army was brought in to patrol the streets following nearly three days of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims, which left an unconfirmed number of people dead.
Security forces escorted about 6,000 Muslims to a stadium in the town where they were being held.
The football stadium, located nearly two miles from the center of Meikhtila, has been turned into a makeshift camp, where the Muslims have made temporary shelters from tarpaulin and thatch.
“I don’t even know how to express my fear when I learned about what happened to my fellow Muslims,” said Kyaw Zwa, a Muslim man staying the camp.
Kyaw Zwa said he and his 12-member family had arrived at the camp on Friday.
His story is unlike many others. His family was protected by a group of Buddhists from the marauding Buddhist mob that ransacked Muslim shops and burned bodies, dumping them in the streets.
He and his family were escorted to the camp by two Buddhist monks.
Though conditions in the camp were not bad, it is unclear when food will arrive.
The chief minister of Mandalay Division said the camp would have adequate food supplies for one week and medical care was being provided.
But there was little food at the camp on Saturday morning, although private citizens had donated supplies to the Muslims.
“All I can say now is we are in big trouble. The government must take action to bring to justice anyone, whether Buddhists or Muslims, who caused the problem.”
US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was deeply concerned about communal violence, loss of life and property damage in Meikhtila, and US Ambassador Derek Mitchell raised concerns with senior Burmese government officials.
“We welcome and encourage the efforts of government authorities, community leaders, civil society and political party leaders to restore calm, to foster dialogue and increase tolerance in a manner that respects human rights and due process of law,” Nuland told reporters in Washington.
An Irrawaddy reporter in Meikhtila on Saturday said there were no clashes on Saturday morning and that the town felt like it was returning to normal.
President Thein Sein on Friday afternoon declared a state of emergency, encouraging local security forces to call in the army to take control of Meikhtila, which is about 150 km south of Mandalay.
The clashes reportedly began when an argument broke out in a gold dealer’s shop between the Muslim owner and a Buddhist customer.
The official death toll stood at 11 on Saturday, but the actual number is probably much higher. A local businessman in the town told Al Jazeera he had counted 28 bodies and most estimated casualty figures are in the dozens.
Thirteen “religious buildings and government offices” were destroyed, according to the Ministry of Information, including five mosques.
A local resident in Meikhtila told The Irrawaddy he had witnessed 60 trucks carrying troops heading to the town.
“Seven army trucks have been patrolling across the town every two hours since this morning,” said Kay Oo May, another resident and the founder of the Young Buddhist Association in Meikhtila.
“It’s very sad to behold. I feel as if I were in a ruined city,” she said.