Sittwe’s Muslim quarter allowed limited access to market
By Kayleigh Long and Nyan Lynn Aung
May 17, 2016
May 17, 2016
Around 30 residents of Sittwe’s only remaining Muslim quarter of Aung Mingalar were allowed to go to the market in the Dar Paing IDP camp yesterday morning, ending what they said had been a temporary lockdown that took place over the weekend.
The number of people allowed out of the police-guarded area was lower than usual, however it has allayed concerns about a potential food and medication shortage.
The temporary stop on transfers followed what residents of Aung Mingalar said was a minor protest staged by a Rakhine group in front of the ghetto’s police barricades close to the centre of the Buddhist-majority capital of Rakhine State. A government official denied that Aung Mingalar had been in lockdown or that any protest had taken place there.
A petition carrying some 600 signatures was delivered by a Rakhine group to the state authorities claiming the enclave’s population had grown. A Rakhine resident who requested anonymity told The Myanmar Times the petition was also in response to rumours there were plans afoot for the construction of a foreign-funded madrassa, an Islamic religious school.
The immigration department has begun conducting identity checks and a head count of the quarter. Many of the inhabitants identify themselves as Rohingya but are known among the Buddhist Rakhine majority – and the Tatmadaw – as Bengalis.
While Aung Mingalar is estimated to be home to some 4500 people, residents say this represents a marked decline on its population prior to the communal riots of 2012 that led to the state policy of segregating Rakhine’s Muslim minority and confining over 100,000 to camps.
The enclave was held by security forces during the 2012 violence, and has been under armed guard since. In recent times, security around the perimeters had been relaxed somewhat, with Rakhine residents using a road on its outskirts as a shortcut. There has been a minor but incremental resumption of trade and relations with a handful of the city’s Buddhist residents, although the ghetto’s food supply comes largely from the IDP camp market.
With the population of Aung Mingalar not considered IDPs, and many having lost their livelihoods, they are largely reliant on outside donations to buy food and supplies.
Residents of Aung Mingalar can apply to be escorted to the IDP camps by Sittwe police on visits that take place two or three times each week, with some able to stay overnight with friends and family.
A government official said Rakhine people sent a letter to Chief Minister U Nyi Pu asking for the population of Aung Mingalar to be checked because they feared that many more people had entered the quarter and were staying there illegally.
The official, who asked not to be named, said the organisation behind the letter did not have a specific name but included 17 elder monks from Rakhine State and 11 elders from various civil society organisations.
U Soe Naing, a member of the organisation, told The Myanmar Times that the previous government had promised that the people of Aung Mingalar would be moved from there. The letter to the new chief minister asked him to carry out this pledge.
“We don’t want any more conflict here [in Rakhine State]. If the Bengali people remain in Aung Mingalar then conflict could happen. Aung Mingalar could be a starting place for conflict to happen,’’ he said.
The United Nations and other international agencies which have a presence in the IDP camps on the fringes of Sittwe have not commented on the events of the past few days in Sittwe. Aid workers say the situation is extremely sensitive and they are seeking clarification from the authorities of their intentions.