Jill Reilly, Daily Mail (London), April 22, 2013
Horrifying footage has emerged of police officers standing by while Burmese Buddhist rioters set fire to a Muslim man.
The video was largely filmed by police in the city of Meiktila during intense clashes between a gang of Buddhists known as the ‘969 squad’ and Muslims last month which left 43 people dead.
In the grainy footage posted on the internet a man–almost certainly a Muslim–is seen rolling around on the ground in agony after being set alight by an angry mob.
His body is charred, but he is clearly still alive and moves slowly as a crowd surrounds him. Several policeman can be seen looking on.
A voice can be heard calling for water, to which another voice replies ‘ No water for him. Let him die.’
The clip surfaced today as Human Rights Watch published a report which concluded Burmese authorities and members of Arakanese groups have committed crimes against humanity in a campaign of ethnic cleansing Muslims.
The sectarian violence, the worst seen in Asia’s fledgling democracy since last year’s conflict, was sparked after an argument between a Muslim gold shop owner and his customers in the city of Meikhtila.
Anti-Muslim followers are known as the ‘969 squad’ and hand out stickers printed with the number ‘969’, which symbolise elements of Buddhism.
In the grainy clip Buddhist men can be seen looting and attacking the gold shop in the town while police stand by, clearly outnumbered by the crowds–a few monks can also be seen in the angry masses.
The tension escalated after a Buddhist monk was attacked after being pulled off a bike – he died later in the town hospital.
The next morning a Muslim district in Mandalay is seen burning–riot police are deployed, but again they stand watching.
People are seen fleeing the fire into the bushes, but a young Muslim man is forced into the open.
He is pushed on to the ground and beaten with sticks before a savage blow with a sword strikes him and he is left on the ground, presumed dead.
As a consequence of the violence a Muslim community that dates back many generations has been wiped out.
The unleashing of ethnic hatred, suppressed during 49 years of military rule that ended in March 2011, is challenging the reformist government of one of Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries.
Jailed dissidents have been released, a free election held and censorship lifted in Myanmar’s historic democratic transition.
But the government has faced mounting criticism over its failure to stop the bloodshed between Buddhists and Muslims.
Hundreds of Muslims fled their homes to shelter at a sports stadium, said local officials.
The unrest is a bloody reprise of last year’s violence in Rakhine State in western Myanmar, which officially killed 110 people and left 120,000 people homeless, most of them stateless Rohingya Muslims.
Locals complained there were too few police in this city of about 180,000 people to subdue the unrest.
Human Rights Watch said today that forces were complicit in disarming Rohingya Muslims of makeshift weapons and standing by, or even joining in, as Rakhine Buddhist mobs killed men, women and children in June and October 2012.
The human rights abuses took place in Myanmar despite widespread political, social and economic reforms by a quasi-civilian government that took power in March 2011 and convinced the West to suspend most sanctions to allow aid and investment into one of Asia’s poorest countries.
‘While the state security forces in some instances intervened to prevent violence and protect fleeing Muslims, more frequently they stood aside during attacks or directly supported the assailants, committing killings and other abuses,’ the report said of the unrest, in which at least 110 people died.
The failure to investigate properly or punish state officials had emboldened those behind campaigns against Muslims elsewhere, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, referring to violence in central Myanmar that killed more than 43 people in March and displaced at least 12,000.
‘People are allowed to incite and instigate in a coordinated campaign–this is the lesson taken in by others,’ Robertson told Reuters. ‘What happened in Arakan (Rakhine) has helped spark radical anti-Muslim activity.’
Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and Myanmar’s deputy Minister of Information, dismissed the report for only taking news from ‘one side’ in a statement on his Facebook page.
‘Its words are unacceptable. The government of Myanmar is not going to give any special consideration to a one-sided report,’ he wrote, adding that the government would only pay heed to its own investigative commission set up after the initial violence in June.
A decision expected on Monday by the European Union to lift all but its arms embargoes would only weaken the hand of Western powers seeking to clean up Myanmar’s poor human rights record, Robertson said.
‘They’re going to be hostage to what the military and government does,’ he said. ‘They’re not going to have the kind of leverage and capacity to push back on the government if it becomes more oppressive.’
The report into the Rakhine state violence, which called for international pressure on the government, said authorities had blocked aid from going into the squalid camps occupied by stateless Rohingya and Kaman Muslims, exposing them to malnourishment and diseases such as cholera or typhoid.
Robertson described the segregation of Muslims as ‘ghettoisation’ that left them vulnerable to abuse.
More than 120,000 people fled arson and machete attacks in Rakhine state and thousands have embarked on perilous journeys on rickety wooden boats to other countries, where they are prey to human trafficking gangs.
An estimated 800,000 stateless Rohingyas live in Myanmar, where the authorities restrict their movements and access to employment and consider them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.