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Alert on Burma violence

17 May 2013

by a staff reporter


Serious: the President of Burma, Thein Sein, vows that his government will do everything it can to protect the rights of minority Muslims, in speech broadcast on state television, on 6 May 

Serious: the President of Burma, Thein Sein, vows that his government will do everything it can to protect the rights of minority Muslims, in speech...

A fact-finding mission to Burma by a Christian organisation says that it has found that, while there are grounds for "cautious optimism" in the reforms introduced over the past 18 months, there are concerns about the rising levels of religious violence.

A team from the campaign group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has returned from four weeks in the country, accompanied by the crossbench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool, during which they met Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of various religious and ethnic groups.

It visited some predominantly Muslim areas that have been targeted in recent months by militant Buddhist groups, led by an ultra-nationalist monk. The security forces have been accused of standing by while Muslims were killed, and their properties looted and burnt.

In one town, Ayela, where a Muslim community had been attacked in March, the madrasa had been burned down, and the mosque desecrated. "We Muslims have lived here for 200 years with no problems," a representative of the community said. "But now there is absolutely no communication with our Buddhist neighbours." Thousands of Muslims have fled from the area.

The CSW report says: "The anti-Muslim hatred and violence has the potential to derail political reform, and destroy the prospects for peace, prosperity, and stability for all the people of Burma."

The group also visited Kachin State, which has a majority- Christian population, and is the centre of continued fighting with Kachin rebels. It heard "some of the worst accounts of human-rights violations we have ever documented, and the culture of impunity appears to continue unchallenged".

The report concludes that "there are no grounds whatsoever for premature euphoria, and many causes for very serious concern . . . CSW believes the decision by the European Union to lift all sanctions, with the exception of the arms embargo, was premature."

The group is calling on the international community to increase diplomatic and political pressure on the government of Burma to release all remaining political prisoners; end all military offensives in Kachin State, and Shan State; and to take urgent action to tackle religious violence.

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