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Time to act

(Photo: AFP)

July 14, 2014

There is much, much more that the authorities in Myanmar will have to do to staunch the flow of the blood of Muslims and the destruction of their property. And if they fail, the international community has a role to pressure the government of President Thein Sein to restrain the Buddhists from committing further acts of violence. But the fact is that instead of discouraging the backers in the government of the Buddhist radicals, the international community seems to be encouraging them by failing to punish them. So far, the government and the military, which backs it, have done very little and this is the main reason for spreading of the violence from Rakhine state to Meikhitila and to Mandalay. In Mandalay, two people died in the recent bloodshed and there is still tension, with the Muslims feeling highly insecure due to the failure of the authorities to grant them enough protection. They fear that there can be more violence and the next phase can be much more explosive.

The hard fact is that there is great insecurity among Muslims all over Myanmar. They feel they are being deliberately targeted by the Buddhists. In Rakhine state, the Rohingya Muslims are living in fear. In the last horrible phase of the riots there, more than 150 people were killed. A lot of property was wantonly destroyed and even mosques razed. And not many have been arrested and jailed for the violence. Most of those involved still roam around scot-free, while the Rohingyas feel they have little support from Muslims elsewhere. Except for a small quantum of lip service paid by some Islamic nations, they have been ignored. Some Muslim nations have even taken negative steps against them. A case in point is the Bangladesh government’s recent move to ban marriages between the Rohingyas and its citizens. This move is to prevent the Rohingyas from use their marriage as a pretext to settle in Bangladesh. The situation in Meikhitila too is extremely tense. The Muslims fear the next moment that might bring murder and mayhem.

The Buddhist-dominated Myanmar government will not do much to help the persecuted Muslims. The responsibility, therefore, lies on the international community to act. The only way to force the Myanmar government to treat Muslims as human beings is to have the Damocles’ sword of sanctions hanging over its head. And if necessary, some new sanctions should be implemented or the existing ones strengthened. In the lead must be the United States, which claims to be the champion of human rights and freedom. The European Union too can also help in this context. Otherwise, the Muslims of Myanmar may face more difficulties in the days ahead. 

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