Rohingya crisis sparks fear among Bangladeshi Buddhists

Rohingya woman Dildar Begum gets treatment at Sadar Hospital in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. Begum and her daughter Noor Kalima, not pictured, got stabbed by Myanmar soldiers and her husband was killed. (AP)
Updated 21 September 2017
0

Rohingya crisis sparks fear among Bangladeshi Buddhists

RAMU, Bangladesh: As thousands of Rohingya flee ethnic violence in Myanmar, Bangladesh’s small Buddhist community fears the crisis could spark a violent backlash from their Muslim neighbors.
Many Bangladeshis are angry over the treatment in Buddhist-majority Myanmar of the Rohingya, a persecuted stateless minority who they see as Muslim brethren.
The anger is particularly acute in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar near the border with Myanmar, where many people have close links with the Rohingya and share linguistic and cultural roots.
But the area is also home to a sizeable Buddhist minority that has suffered hate attacks in the past.
Authorities in Cox’s Bazar have deployed 550 extra police in Buddhist areas to prevent a repeat of religious unrest in 2012, when Muslim mobs attacked temples and Buddhist homes.
Buddhist monk Proggananda Bhikkhu vividly remembers the night a Muslim mob torched a 300-year-old temple he looks after.
He fled when between 30 and 40 Muslims broke into his temple and began looting statues and other valuable artefacts, but he watched the violence from a nearby field.
“When the looting was over, they set fire to the temple,” he told AFP at the Kendriya Shima Bihar temple, which had to be largely rebuilt after the 2012 attack.
“We never imagined this could happen, we had good relations with the local Muslims.”
Bhikkhu said the monks had not received any direct threats, but he had seen some on the Internet.
“People on social media are trying to portray this as a religious conflict. But like the Muslims, we are citizens of Bangladesh, and we condemn these actions (in Myanmar),” he said.
Many of the more than 420,000 refugees have accused Myanmar’s ethnic Rakhine Buddhists of participating in the attacks on their villages that forced them to seek refuge in Bangladesh.
On Monday at least 20,000 Islamist hard-liners took part in a demonstration in Dhaka to demand an end to what they termed a “genocide.”
Buddhists make up less than one percent of Bangladesh’s 160 million people and are broadly well integrated.
But there have been attacks on the community in the past. Last year an elderly Buddhist monk was hacked to death, one of a series of gruesome murders targeting religious minorities that police blamed on Islamist extremists.
At a small food stall near the Kendriya Shima Bihar temple in Ramu, a cluster of villages in Cox’s Bazar, a group of elderly men recalled the night Muslims angered by images on Facebook showing a desecrated Qur'an went on a violent rampage.
But they said the two communities now lived in harmony and blamed outsiders for the violence.
“These people are Muslims,” said Manoda Barua, a retired businessman who lives in a large house next to the temple, as he gestured to two men standing nearby.
“We eat together, we study together. There are Muslim villages all around us.”
Mohammad Ismail, a Muslim carpenter from the next village who had come for a plate of vegetable curry, said the two communities had “very good relations” and claimed the 2012 violence had been started by outsiders.
But some Buddhists in the village are quietly worried.
Prokriti Barua, a housemaid, said she had heard rumors of rising anger in the local Muslim community.
“We are feeling threatened,” she said. “People are saying that the Muslims want to kill us.”
Bangladesh’s Buddhist leaders have said they will tone down celebrations for an upcoming religious festival and donate the money saved to the relief cause.
Last week, monks at the Kendriya Shima Bihar temple organized a blood donation drive for the Rohingya refugees.
But Barua, the businessman, said the Rohingya were “uneducated people” and expressed anger that their plight had brought difficulties to his community.
“There are differences between us and the moghs,” he said, using a local term for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
“We are just innocent Buddhists.”
Some of the Rohingya who cross into Bangladesh travel to refugee camps through the Rakhine villages, where small Buddhist stupas dot the green paddy fields and line the banks of the Naf river that divides the two countries.
Ranga Babu Chakma, a Rakhine Buddhist, said some had tried to settle near his farming village of Dunga Khatta, but had been moved on by police who feared communal tensions.
“Bangladesh is a small country that is already overpopulated,” he said.
“If they (Rohingya) settle here it will cause big problems.”


Thailand’s rescued cave boys to address media on Wednesday

Updated 10 min 46 sec ago
0

Thailand’s rescued cave boys to address media on Wednesday

  • Journalists will submit questions in advance which will be vetted by a psychologist
  • Two British divers found them on July 2 squatting on a mound in a flooded chamber several kilometers inside the complex

BANGKOK: The 12 Thai boys and soccer coach who were rescued from a flooded cave will be discharged from hospital on Wednesday and hold a news conference the same day to satisfy huge media interest in their story, a government official said.
“We want to reduce public curiosity,” government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told Reuters on Tuesday.
The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were safely brought out of the Tham Luang mountain cave complex near the border with Myanmar last week after a perilous rescue operation that drew global media attention and hundreds of journalists to the scene.
The boys and their coach have been in hospital in the northern town of Chiang Rai since they were rescued.
The authorities have been concerned about the impact of sudden fame and media attention on the boys’ mental health, so Wednesday’s news conference will be carefully controlled.
Journalists will submit questions in advance which will be vetted by a psychologist. Approved questions will be put to the boys by a moderator.
“We arrange it so that, after that, the boys can go back to their regular lives,” Sansern said.
The boys and their coach had planned to explore the cavern for about an hour after soccer practice on June 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.
Two British divers found them on July 2 squatting on a mound in a flooded chamber several kilometers inside the complex. Rescuers then had to work out how to get them out through the tunnels, some of which were full of fast-flowing floodwater.
Their dramatic story is already set for a retelling by Hollywood, with two production companies looking to put together movies about the boys and their rescue.
Passakorn Bunyalak, deputy governor of the province of Chiang Rai, said the boys would be sent home after the news conference and he was requesting their parents and journalists to hold off interviews for about 30 days.
“At this early stage, we are trying to get media not to bother the boys,” he told Reuters, adding that they were protected by Thailand’s Child Protection Act.
An article in the act protects those under 18 from media coverage that would cause emotional and reputational injury.