Mandalay Quiet but Far From Normal

Myanmar continues to wrestle with the new shape it will take as it comes out of the decades long military governance.  While moving forward with integration plans into the world economy, including massive development plans in Yangon, armed clashes continue between the army and several non Burmese ethnic groups, even as talks take place; fear of broken promises is great. High ranking world leaders have come calling, from President Obama in 2012 to Australia’s foreign minister in early July, carrying a message of concern.

The most worrisome problem is the rise of Buddhist firebrands. now morphing into armed militias such as the Arkan Army, and the spread of anti-Muslim violence from the Rakhine state, where thousands have fled into displaced persons camps  into other parts of Myanmar. A curfew was put in place earlier this week in Mandalay, the second largest city.

“MANDALAY —After four days of unrest between Buddhist and Muslim communities, calm had returned to Mandalay and surrounding areas on Saturday,where the streets were quiet and largely deserted. Residents said, however,that they lived in fear of another outbreak of inter-communal violence.

In Mandalay’s Muslim neighborhoods, located southeast of the old moat, shops were shuttered and armed security forces were deployed at access routes to the areas and at religious buildings. Hundreds of police officers in riot gear stood guard at Joon Mosque, one of the city’s biggest mosques.

Police at Joon Mosque in Mandalay on Saturday evening. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Police at Joon Mosque in Mandalay on Saturday evening. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

…Violence first broke out on Tuesday night after allegations circulated on Facebook that a Muslim tea shop owner had raped a Buddhist maid. Mandalay-based nationalist Buddhist monk Wirathu quickly fanned the tensions by spreading the accusations and calling for action against the shop owner.

During clashes between communities, a 36-year-old Buddhist man was killed and a 50-year-old Muslim man was beaten to death. Fourteen people were injured.

Unrest continued to simmer in subsequent days and on Thursday night authorities imposed a 9 pm to 5 am curfew for all six of Mandalay’s townships.

… On Friday, the curfew was extended to Pathein Gyi Township, a rural area north of Mandalay, where hundreds of villagers, angered after attending the funeral of a Buddhist victim,vandalized the Muslim section of a cemetery and burned down several small buildings.

Thomas Fuller continues reporting from the country:

Both critics and supporters of the government agree that changes over the past three years have made Myanmar profoundly more open and free than the cloistered, brutally repressive country that it was under military rule.

But whereas two years ago the government was tightly focused on writing a foreign investment law, releasing political prisoners and abolishing strict censorship, critics say religious politicking is both distracting leaders from reforms and poisoning some of the good will that President Thein Sein, a former general, had when he began the liberalization effort in 2011.

One of the highest-profile proposals of his administration this year is a series of divisive measures to “protect” Buddhism that have drawn outrage from interfaith groups. The proposed laws — pushed by a radical Buddhist movement blamed by many for instigating violence against Muslims — would restrict religious conversions and require women to obtain permission before marrying outside their religion [to counter what is labeled a “love-jihad,” a term previously used by right-wing Hindus in India]

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