Myanmar town offers glimmer of hope for Muslims enduring ‘apartheid’

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This photo taken on October 3, 2019 shows people walking in Kyauktalone camp in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state, where Muslim residents have been forced to live for seven years after the inter-communal unrest tore apart the town. (AFP / Ye Aung Thu)
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This photo taken on October 4, 2019 shows a view of Kyauktalone camp in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state, where Muslim residents have been forced to live for seven years after the inter-communal unrest tore apart the town. Some 130,000 Muslims, the vast majority Rohingya, have been languishing in various camps in central Rakhine since the violence between Buddhist and Muslims swept through the region in 2012, without decent access to education, healthcare and work. - TO GO WITH Myanmar-Rakhine-Islam-Rohingya-unrest,FEATURE by Richard Sargent / AFP / Ye Aung THU / TO GO WITH Myanmar-Rakhine-Islam-Rohingya-unrest,FEATURE by Richard Sargent
Updated 23 November 2019

Myanmar town offers glimmer of hope for Muslims enduring ‘apartheid’

  • Buddhist-Muslim unrest in 2012 swept through swathes of western Myanmar, resulting in more than 200 deaths and Rohingya villages razed
  • In the ensuing government-backed purge, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine were driven out to neighboring Bangladesh

KYAUKPHYU, Myanmar: Htoo Maung sits down to lunch, sharing a bowl of traditional noodle soup with old friends, an ordinary act that has become extraordinary in Myanmar’s Rakhine state — because he is Muslim, and they are Buddhist.
They used to live side by side as neighbors.
But now he can only visit them under a strict curfew enforced by armed guards before he must return to the muddy camp where he and the rest of Kyaukphyu town’s Muslims have been confined for seven years.
In 2012 inter-communal unrest swept through swathes of western Myanmar, including Htoo Maung’s home town, after allegations spread that a Buddhist woman had been raped by Muslim men.
Mobs ransacked homes and police rounded up Muslims for their “own safety” to sites that would later be turned into camps.
More than 200 died, tens of thousands were displaced and the stage was set for the bloody purge of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine five years later.
Many fear the enduring deep sectarian suspicions and religious divisions are irrevocable and authorities claim any attempt to reintegrate communities could trigger new unrest.
But some Muslims in Kyaukphyu have managed to maintain a cautious relationship with Buddhist friends, raising hopes that old communal bonds may not be completely severed.
“The people from the town didn’t attack us,” Htoo Maung says, suggesting outsiders were to blame.




Students are seen in Kyauktalone camp in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state, where Muslim residents have been forced to live for seven years after the inter-communal unrest tore apart the town. (AFP / Ye Aung Thu)

Kyaukphyu ethnic Rakhine MP Kyaw Than insists his town is ready to welcome the Muslims back, but can only do so with the government’s green light.
“Everyone in the camp is a citizen,” he says, decrying the “lack of humanity” shown to the town’s Muslim population.
But there is no forgetting the new social order.
Htoo Maung, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, and the other Muslims from the camp are only permitted to visit town for two hours at a time under the chaperone of weapon-wielding police.
He is bereft at the loss of his old life.
“I feel so sad — I never imagined this could happen.” Htoo Maung tells AFP, as he looks at the overgrown patch of land where his house once stood.
He adds: “We are not illegal.”
He and many others in the camp are Kaman Muslims. Unlike the Rohingya, they are an officially recognized minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
But their status did little to help them as the unrest spread.
Before the attacks, some were teachers, lawyers and judges, while others fished or drove ox carts transporting cargo and people between the shore and the wooden boats that moor off the working beach.
Those jobs in the town are now exclusively carried out by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, who have also taken over any still-intact homes of Muslims.
Saw Pu Chay leads a women’s rights group in a downtown building that served as a mosque before 2012.
Cavities in the wall where Islamic symbols were gouged out stand testament to the 2012 violence.




This photo taken on October 2, 2019 shows people riding past the town's clock tower in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state, where Muslim residents have been forced to live in a camp for seven years in a camp after the inter-communal unrest tore apart the town. (AFP / Ye Aung Thu)

The 53-year-old defends using the building, saying local Muslim friends sometimes stop by to see her on their way from the camp to the market.
“I know them well as we’ve lived alongside them since we were young. They’ve lived here for generations,” she says, while making it clear she considers the Rohingya further north as unwelcome outsiders.
Kyaukphyu camp residents are desperate for a chance to rebuild their lives.
“It’s just like a prison,” says camp leader Phyu Chay of his current ‘home’, adding: “There are no jobs and we struggle to get hold of proper medication.”
Some 130,000 Muslims, the vast majority Rohingya, are languishing in various camps in central Rakhine.
Hundreds of thousands more fare little better, trapped in villages with virtually no freedom of movement.
Amnesty International brands the “institutionalized system of segregation and discrimination” so severe it constitutes “apartheid.”
They continue to lack access to education, health care and work — a situation Amnesty’s Laura Haigh describes as both “unacceptable and criminal.”
Many have been forced to accept a controversial National Verification Card (NVC), a limbo status offering few rights until holders “prove” their claim to full citizenship.
Rights groups condemn the NVC as a discriminatory tool foisted on many Muslims — particularly Rohingya — who they say should already be treated as full citizens.
Few have successfully negotiated the convoluted bureaucratic path to obtain full ID.
Authorities did not respond to requests for comment.
Under international pressure, the government has announced it will close all the camps.
But in the current plan, those “freed” would not be allowed to return to their former homes.
Instead they would be resettled in new accommodation close to the former camps with continuing heavy restrictions on movement.
The UN, NGOs and rights groups fear the strategy simply “risks entrenching segregation” and urge the government to grant Rakhine’s Muslims the full freedoms they deserve.
Phyu Chay says: “All our human rights have been violated.”


Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

Updated 21 January 2020

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

  • Ex-president says Taliban offer to reduce violence a ‘major development’

KABUL: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged President Ashraf Ghani to drop the pre-condition of cease-fire to begin talks with the Taliban amid high hope that the US and Taliban delegates will sign a deal following more than a year of secret discussions.

Speaking in an interview with BBC local service, Karzai said the government “should not block intra-Afghan dialogue under the pretext of cease-fire.” He said the Taliban offer for reduction in violence as the group says is nearing to ink the deal with American diplomats in Qatar, was a “major development.”

He said Ghani needed to accept the Taliban offer.

Ghani says truce is a must ahead of starting any negotiations with the Taliban calling reduction in violence a general term and arguing that such a call by the Taliban political leaders in Qatar only goes to show that they have control over field commanders back in Afghanistan.

The Taliban say the group will announce truce when the intra-Afghan dialogue begins which will happen after Washington sets timetable for withdrawal of the troops.

Washington at least on one occasion called off the talks with the Taliban in Qatar due to Taliban attacks back in Afghanistan as discussions continued in Qatar despite none of the warring sides having committed to halt offensives during the talks.

Ghani’s government has been sidelined from all rounds of talks between the Taliban delegates and US diplomats led by Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar. There has also been rift between Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with the president in the National Unity Government, on the pre-condition of cease-fire.

Unlike Ghani, Abdullah is happy with reduction of violence. Talking in a meeting of council of ministers, Abdullah on Monday indirectly said Ghani had taken the peace process in his monopoly.

 “Peace is not one person’s monopoly, one person’s wish — but it is a collective desire, and the people of Afghanistan have the right to take a position regarding the peace process,” said Abdullah.