Muslim houses burned in new round of Myanmar violence

Updated 02 October 2013

Muslim houses burned in new round of Myanmar violence

THANDWE, Myanmar: President Thein Sein toured Myanmar’s conflict-torn west on Tuesday as sectarian violence once again gripped the state of Rakhine, with Buddhist mobs killing a 94-year-old Muslim woman and torching more than 70 homes, officials and panicked residents said.
With attacks reported in at least two other villages on the outskirts of Thandwe, where tensions have been mounting for days, the number of causalities could rise.
More than 700 rioters, some swinging swords, took to the streets in Thabyuchaing, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the coastal town, on Tuesday afternoon, said police officer Kyaw Naing.
An elderly Muslim woman died from stab wounds in the clashes that followed, the officer said, putting the number of houses set on fire at between 70 and 80.
Smoldering buildings — and several injured Buddhist Rakhines — were seen by The Associated Press in Shwe Hlay. And a police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not have authority to speak to the media, said Linthi also was hit by rioters.
Both villages are about 17 kilometers (10 miles) from Thandwe.
The visit by Thein Sein to the divided region was his first since sectarian violence broke out more than a year ago.
He arrived in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe under tight security early Tuesday and was scheduled to travel to several more towns, including Maungdaw to the north and, on Wednesday, Thandwe to the south, said a senior official in the president’s office, declining to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the sensitive trip.
He said Thein Sein “is going there to help find a long-term solution to the problem” and would meet with government officials and residents.
A heavy security presence failed to deter the attackers, however, with witnesses saying soldiers and police made no efforts to step in. A 6 p.m. curfew was imposed.
Sectarian clashes that began in Rakhine in June 2012 have since morphed into an anti-Muslim campaign that has spread to towns and villages nationwide. So far, more than 240 people have been killed and more than 140,000 have fled their homes, the vast majority of them Muslims.
Thein Sein, who has been praised for making moves to transition from half a century of military rule, has been criticized for failing to contain the unrest and protect the country’s embattled Muslim minority.
Many of those targeted so far have been ethnic Rohingyas, considered by many in the country to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh, though many of their families arrived generations ago.
But in the latest flare-up, the victims were Kamans, another Muslim minority group, whose citizenship is recognized.
The trouble started Saturday, when a Buddhist taxi driver alleged he’d been verbally abused by a Muslim shop owner while trying to park his vehicle.
Hours later, rocks were thrown at the man’s home. And by Sunday, as anger spread, two houses owned by Muslims were burned to the ground.
The violence has proven to be a major challenge for Thein Sein’s government, which rights groups say has done little to crack down on religious intolerance and failed to bridge a divide that has left hundreds of thousands of Muslims marginalized, many of them trapped in prison-like camps for those who have been displaced.
Initially confined to Rakhine state, sectarian attacks have spread this year into Myanmar’s heartland, ravaging several other cities across the country. At the same time, a Buddhist-led campaign called “969” has taken root nationwide; its supporters urge Buddhists to shop only at Buddhist stores and avoid marrying, hiring or selling their homes or land to Muslims.
While radical monks have helped fuel the crisis, saying Muslims pose a threat to Buddhist culture and traditions, critics say a failure by the government and society as a whole to speak out is helping perpetuate the violence.
“Political, religious and community leaders need to condemn hate speech,” Jim Della-Giacoma of the International Crisis Group said in a statement.
“Those who are spreading messages of intolerance and hatred must not go unchallenged. Otherwise, this issue could come to define the new Myanmar, tarnishing its international image and threatening the success of its transition away from decades of authoritarianism,” he said.
Muslims, who account for about 4 percent of Myanmar’s roughly 60 million people, have been the main victims of the violence since it began. But most criminal trials have involved prosecutions of Muslims rather than members of the Buddhist majority.


UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

Updated 39 min 21 sec ago

UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

  • Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year
  • SOAS said that it had taken short term action to reduce costs

LONDON: A UK university specializing in the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East has been forced to slash costs and implement drastic staff cuts after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic exacerbated its financial problems.
Staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, said they feared that management was cutting costs to make the college an attractive takeover target for an overseas institution or one of its London rivals, UK newspaper the Guardian reported.
Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year.
The effects of the pandemic on student recruitment meant “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the school’s ability to continue as a going concern” over the next 12 months, SOAS’s auditors warned.
One academic at SOAS told the Guardian that the college’s senior managers had “been unable to make significant changes over the last few years, and now it has ended in a big crisis. This is a serious failure of management.”
Its senior academics were ordered to identify staff cuts that were to be submitted on Friday, and departments were asked to balance their budgets while expecting a 50 percent drop in new international students, the report said.
SOAS’s International Foundation Courses and English Language Studies Center, which provides courses to international students, has reportedly been told to make so many cuts that it will effectively disappear, along with its 55 staff.
The college’s highly regarded international development department, which is ranked eighth in the world, will also suffer from major cuts. Its famed anthropology and sociology department is likely to lose between a third and half of its academic staff.
“I think people are in shock,” a staff member said. “This all happened while we are still coping with COVID-19.”
SOAS released a statement on Friday saying the coronavirus pandemic had affected all British universities and that it was “taking decisive action now so that we can continue to ensure we provide an excellent student experience to our new and returning students.”
It acknowledged that although its “accounts show that SOAS has already taken steps to reduce its deficit position,” the “impact of COVID-19 has put finances across the HE sector under even greater pressure than before.”
It added that it had taken short term action to reduce costs including “pausing capital spend, line by line scrutiny of non-pay budgets” and reducing the use of building space in the Bloomsbury area in London, outside its core campus.
SOAS also said that additional proposals for change were being considered and would be implemented ahead of the start of the new academic year in September. 
SOAS, University of London, has been ranked in the UK’s top 20 universities for Arts and Humanities, according to the 2020 Times Higher Education World University Ranking.
The rankings place SOAS 13th in the UK and 57th in the world.