Concerns among Muslims that crackdown in west could be reflected in other areas of the country
Maung Maung Cho was surprised when his elderly parents told him they had moved from their cashew farm to a nearby village because they feared repercussions from recent violence in against Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine.
“I told them they don’t need to do that as I know my mom and dad love the farm so much,” the middle-age tour operator told Anadolu Agency.
His parents live in the Irrawaddy delta that feeds into the Andaman Sea and their concerns reflect fears that the anti-Muslim violence in Rakhine could spread across the country.
Muang added: “They told me they will be safe in village as people are patrolling at night-time.”
Since Aug. 25, when the military launched a fresh wave of security operations against Rohingya civilians in Rakhine, more than 400,000 have been forced to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
Many refugees have reported mass killings carried out by the security forces and Buddhist mobs, as well as widespread looting and the burning of Rohingya villages. Bangladesh has said around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed.
Earlier this month, the Burma Human Rights Network reported on widespread persecution of Muslims of all ethnicities across the country. This could be seen in the closure of mosques, the denial of identity papers and even the creation of “Muslim-free zones”.
There are thought to be around 2.35 million Muslims in Myanmar, based on figures from a 2014 census.
This includes 1.2 million in Rakhine before the latest exodus and would account for around 4 percent of the total population. However, many believe the real figure is closer to 10 percent.
As well as his parents, Maung said many students had returned to his village from the regional capital Pathein as anonymous warnings about violence between Buddhists and Muslims spread via social media and text message.
“It seems rumors cause panic among people,” Maung, who lives in Yangon, told Anadolu Agency.
Such rumors have been fuelled by government warnings many see as part of policy to generate tension and provide a rationale for the crackdown in Rakhine.
There has been a noticeable rise in police patrols in cities in recent days and the government, which is still dominated by the military, has warned that those fomenting sectarian violence will face prosecution.
In Taungdwingyi, a town 61 kilometers (38 miles) northwest of capital Naypyidaw, five people were arrested after a group of young men attacked dozens of Muslim homes and businesses.
“A group of about 20 people rampaged along the streets in the Muslim-majority quarter of the town on early Sunday night,” Kyaw Kyaw Tun, who runs a free clinic in the town, told Anadolu Agency.
He said the initial group dispersed when police arrived but a mob of around 50 men wielding sticks and knives struck in another part of town.
“They abetted local Buddhist people to destroy a mosque in the center of the town,” he said.
Fear also gripped the Muslim communities in Yangon and Mandalay, which were both affected by anti-Muslim violence in 2013, as rumors of possible attacks on Muslims emerged.
However, there have been some instances of cross-community cooperation despite swirling fears.
In Mandalay’s Chanayetharzan township, Buddhists and Muslims have joined police patrols since Monday night, when a group of motorcyclists shouted anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya slogans as they rode through the district.
Local administrator Aung Kyaw Soe said the police-civilian patrols were designed to prevent outside agitation.
“We don’t want to suffer another politically-motivated violence,” he added. “We need to join hands to prevent further instigation.”
Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, has also seen incidents of anti-Muslim sentiment.
On Tuesday, a man later identified by police as 27-year-old Aung Thein Htwe shouted racist abuse in the city’s Shanchaung township. Local media reported him as shouting that he would kill “kalar”, a term of abuse aimed at Muslims.
He was jailed for eight days on Wednesday.
“It’s very clear that there is a group of people who want to make the country unstable by instigating violence between us,” Wunna Shwe, joint secretary of the Islamic Religious Affairs Council, told Anadolu Agency.
However, he said he was hopeful that ties between Muslim and Buddhist communities in cities such as Yangon could be preserved and reinforced.
“We are very happy to see Buddhists and Muslims are protecting each other,” he said. “With such understanding, we have the confidence to overcome the challenges ahead.”
Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
Last October, following attacks on border posts in Rakhine’s Maungdaw district, security forces launched a five-month crackdown in which, according to Rohingya groups, around 400 people were killed.
The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings and disappearances committed by security personnel.
In a report, UN investigators said the human rights violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.