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Myanmar president's new year message urges harmony

Call for peace after spate of sectarian violence

Myanmar president's new year message urges harmony
Displaced Muslims are being sheltered at a football stadium in Meikhtila (photo by Daniel Wynn)

Reformist President Thein Sein yesterday used a Myanmar New Year radio address to call for religious harmony following recent riots between Muslim and Buddhists in the central city of Meikhtila.

“Our society has overcome many difficulties and challenges together so we can emerge as a society in which multiple races and religions coexist harmoniously while preserving our own customs and traditions,” he said as Myanmar started its Thingyan New Year water festival.

Last month’s riots in Meikhtila, which left 43 dead and 130,000 people displaced as homes and mosques were burned to the ground, follows even more serious sectarian violence in western Rakhine state last year.

Thein Sein said that Myanmar needed to learn from the cycle of violence and instability that has plagued the country over the past year if it is to realize its goal of democratization following a series of political and economic reforms since he took office two years ago.

On Friday, three Muslims including a gold shop owner from Meikhtila were jailed for 14 years after they were convicted of theft and beating a Buddhist customer during an argument which led to last month’s deadly riots.

Although witnesses say that hardline Buddhists were responsible for much of the well organized violence, there have been no further convictions so far.

“Why are we so miserable that our men and women, children, students are brutally killed? Muslims are scapegoats in this transition period from the brutal junta,” Nyunt Maung Shein, president of the country’s Islamic Religious Affairs Council was quoted as saying by AFP.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) issued a statement yesterday calling on Myanmar to accept a ministerial delegation made up of different Muslim nations to hold discussions on the recent violence.

The 57-country body also urged the UN Human Rights Commission to send a fact finding mission to Myanmar as it called on the country to “strongly respond to the organization’s appeal and allow the ministerial OIC delegation to visit.”

The UN special envoy on rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, has twice visited Rakhine state since sectarian violence started there in June last year.

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Buddhists in Rakhine in particular have protested at what they see as interference by the UN and OIC.

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