Caution urged for Myanmar festival

By Nirmal Ghosh | Source: ANN
As people forced to flee Meikhtila amid deadly riots last month begin making their way back to the town, Muslims have been advised to exercise caution during the upcoming four-day water festival in Myanmar.

The often rowdy event, officially celebrated from April 13-16, is known as Thingyan in Myanmar and Songkran in neighbouring Thailand. Summer temperatures and excitement run high and drunkenness is common.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, criticised by many for her silence over the deadly sectarian riots, met Muslim community leaders yesterday and reportedly assured them of her support by fighting for the rule of law.

On Tuesday, Wunna Shwe, joint secretary of the Islamic Religious Affairs Council, said “Thingyan is the festival for mainly Buddhist people, which at the same time is delightful for all citizens in the country”.

“Due to our concerns with the (religious tensions), we have urged Muslim people to make merit at mosques and at home, to avoid misunderstandings and to pray for peace and harmony among citizens in the country during the festival,” the Democratic Voice of Burma reported him as saying.

Meanwhile in Meikhtila, displaced people have been allowed since the weekend to return to their home sites, most burned to the ground, to retrieve whatever they can before the land is cleared in preparation for rebuilding their homes, the United Nations’ Office for Humanitarian Affairs said in an update yesterday.

A government-led “family reunification process” has helped reunite several families, the statement said. The government says it will rebuild nearly 1,600 homes.

Three days of riots in Meikhtila left at least 42 people dead and displaced several thousand others. Buddhists were also killed and displaced, but most of the victims were Muslim. Official figures put the number of people put up in shelters in Meikhtila at 8,441.

A state of emergency remains in place in much of Meikhtila and its surrounds, with the army still deployed to maintain order. Night-time curfews are still in place in several areas just north of Yangon, which saw anti-Muslim attacks after the Meikhtila riots. The government says more than 140 people have been arrested for inciting violence.

Cyberspace continues to be in ferment, with Muslims and Buddhists trading propaganda and accusations.

While no incidents have been reported in affected areas for over a week, a fire at an Islamic school in Yangon that killed 13 boys early last week has added to the pervasive tension and nervousness. Many Muslims believe the fire was started intentionally. The government has launched an official inquiry.

Security forces remain on high alert, especially in Yangon and Mandalay, and police deployments are being beefed up for the Thingyan festival.