World Bulletin / News Desk
Mob violence targeting international aid workers in western Myanmar has led to the death of an 11-year-old girl, sparking widespread outrage Friday from governments and humanitarian organizations around the world.
Large crowds rampaged through the streets of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, yesterday. They ransacked aid agency buildings and hurled stones at aid workers’ houses. No one was initially reported injured in those attacks.
But on Friday it emerged that police accidentally shot an 11-year-old Rakhine girl while firing warning rounds to disperse a mob, according to police and an NGO source.
The town is now under a 6pm to 6am curfew and police claim the situation is "calm."
The violence came just days ahead of a controversial census that is threatening to cause further clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.
Rakhine are protesting the census because they object to Rohingya being allowed to list their ethnic name on the forms.
They want them instead to be forced to list as Bengali, a name that enforces a popular myth that Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The initial mob formed on Wednesday evening, reportedly in response to a female international aid worker's mishandling of a Buddhist flag after removing it from a building owned by Malteser International, a medical relief group.
Local residents were reported to have said that the woman was seen holding the flag near her waist, considered a sign of disrespect among the mob.
Rakhine have been flying Buddhist flags outside their homes in Sittwe as a symbol of protest against the census.
The mob began hurling stones at the relief group's building and went on to attack the homes of aid workers. Police fired 40 to 50 warning shots to disperse a crowd of around 300, a local official said.
The violence picked up again Thursday with larger crowds ransacking NGO offices, warehouses and homes. Police said that 14 properties were destroyed Wednesday and Thursday, among them warehouses owned by the World Food Programme and UNHCR.
UN CONDEMNS VIOLENCE
The United Nations released a statement late Thursday condemning the attacks and expressing deep concern “about the continued lack of adequate security forces and rule of law on the ground in Sittwe."
Toily Kurbanov, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, said, “I urge the authorities to ensure an appropriate response is provided and perpetrators are held accountable.”
The United States Embassy in Yangon said that it was “deeply concerned” by the mob violence and lack of “adequate security forces” in the town.
Others, including Valerie Amos, the Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs at the UN, and Hugo Swire, a Minister of State at the UK foreign office, also issued statements condemning the violence.
Myanmar state media reported Friday that 71 aid workers, including 32 foreigners, had been evacuated from the area.
International organizations have chartered flights to Yangon for their staff and many fear the violence will escalate.
A travel update from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth office warned that “further violence could be directed against foreigners” in Sittwe.
An NGO source told the Anadolu Agency that crowds of Rakhine Buddhists have been roaming the town brandishing knives.
Bitter animosity against aid agencies in the region began after ethnic violence erupted in Rakhine in 2012, leading to the deaths of hundreds and displacing tens of thousands.
That resentment has intensified in recent months with sustained protests by Buddhist nationalists who accuse the aid agencies of giving more support to Rohingya - the overwhelming victims of the ethnic clashes - than to Rakhine.
At the end of February, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders was expelled from Rakhine, partly because of accusations of pro-Rohingya bias.Last Mod: 28 Mart 2014, 11:32