News in the Traveler’s Eye

Still getting my feet under me after five weeks in Southeast Asia — Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.  It’s strange once again, after 37 mornings of 6 a.m. wake-up calls and eating around hotel tables with traveling friends, to be  quiet with the morning NY Times and brief exchanges with the dear reader across from me.

As is usual, places that we’ve been leap out from the pages. Sadly, this morning, it is the rioting in Myanmar, and not just along the coast where it has occurred in recent month, but inland, at Meiktila– the scene, as it happens, of the last enormous battle between the Japanese and the Allies at the near-end of WW II.  If the reporting is right, the saddest of sad things is that the anti-Muslim rioting, and threats against reporters, are being lead by Buddhist monks with sharpened weapons.

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Having been with a guide in Burma who was not shy about voicing his quarrels with the government — as well as his hope– and having just seen Luc Besson’s fine movie, The Lady, about Aung San Suu Kyi and her fifteen year struggle it is strange indeed to see the red neckerchiefed police acting as police are supposed to act — stopping communal rioting and making space for cooler heads….

Rioting and arson attacks spread on Friday to villages outside Meiktila, as mobs of Buddhists, some led by monks, continued a three-day rampage through Muslim areas. Witnesses reached by phone said security forces did little to stop the violence.

“Mobs were destroying buildings and killing people in cold blood,” said U Nyan Lynn, a former political prisoner who witnessed what he described as massacres. “Nobody stopped them — I saw hundreds of riot police there.”

News services, which had reporters in the city, said that Buddhist homes had also been set on fire and that while thousands of Muslims had fled to a stadium for safety, at least some Buddhists were also taking shelter outside their homes, in shrines.

Images from Meiktila showed entire neighborhoods burned to the ground, some with only blackened trees left standing. Lifeless legs poked from beneath rubble. And charred corpses spoke to the use of fire as a main tool of the rioting mobs.  NY Times

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In Thailand’s north west, which we didn’t get to, but heard of quite often,  Karen refugees have piled up in make-shift camps, fleeing from fighting between the Myanmar army and Karen separatists.  A fire broke out yesterday, killing 30.  Likely started from the slash-and-burn farming which takes place all over Southeast Asia and is much in evidence in the air almost everywhere, as we did experience.

NY Times

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