Violence between Myanmar’s Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority has intensified since beginning in May 2012, with 84 deaths and 22,500 people displaced in the latest round of conflict according to the United Nations and state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar.
Crisis Overshadows Reforms
The emerging crisis between the Buddhists and ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims presents a challenge to Myanmar’s President Thein Sein’s efforts for reform. The nation of Myanmar was ruled from 1962 until 2011 by a military junta that only recently gave way to a nominal parliamentary democracy. President Sein seeks reconciliation with Myanmar’s various ethnic minorities in an effort to consolidate the government’s power and introduce stability to the country.
United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Ashok Nigam
Ashok Nigam, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, reported large-scale destruction of homes and villages in primarily Rohingya areas. The fighting was so intense that many local Islamic religious organizations were forced to cancel Eid Al Adha holiday celebrations.
Some of the worst fighting thus far has been in Kyauktaw village. Tensions began in May between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. Over the course of the conflict, over 75,000 people have fled and are now living in makeshift camps . According to satellite video from Human Rights Watch, the Rohingya coastal village of Kyauk Pu suffered extensive destruction. Human Rights Watch spokesperson Phil Robertson comments that the government of Myanmar has done little to curb the violence. Indeed, for much of the military junta’s reign, ethnic groups such as the Rohingya were not even considered citizens.
Political Reform in Myanmar
Bordered by the rising nations of India and China, as well as Laos, Thailand, and Bangladesh, Myanmar is a resource rich but underdeveloped state at the heart of one of the world’s fastest growing economic regions.
While it was long ruled by an oppressive and authoritarian military junta, the nation, since 2011, has emerged as a cautious reformer, keen to reconcile the past and join in on the economic development sweeping the region.