By Kyaw Ye Lynn
The Muslim community in a remote town in northeastern Myanmar could not repair or rebuild a damaged orphanage, as local authorities transferred the ownership rights to a nearby primary school.
Muslim religious buildings and shops were burned downed in Lashio of restive Shan state by a mob of Buddhist rioters during two-day communal violence in 2013.
At least one person was killed and several others injured in anti-Muslim attacks that started on May 28.
Muslim community leaders in Lashio had alarmed the authorities of possible incidents in the town since anti-Muslim attacks spread in several Myanmar towns following the communal violence in western Rakhine state in 2013.
Similar riots were previously reported in other parts of the country. A central town of Meiktila in Mandalay region had seen the worst incident in March 2013. At least 40 people, mostly Muslim students, were killed by the rioters.
“Since the riots broke out in other areas, we knew the radical nationalists will definitely target us,” Tin Aung said, adding they requested authorities to protect them.
“The authorities told me not to worry about it, but they did nothing. So we were helpless when the rioters rampaged in Lashio,” he said.
During the violence, Muslim residents didn’t confront the rioters. Instead they ran away or hid in the town, he added.
Orphanage set on fire
Khun Zaw Oo, a local journalist, who was attacked by the mob while covering the riots in Lashio, said many non-Muslim residents helped Muslim residents to escape the riots.
“The rioters were mostly migrant workers,” he told Anadolu Agency.
“If the Buddhist residents were involved [in riots], Muslims would have no place to hide and there would be more casualties,” the journalist added.
About 1,400 Muslims, mostly women and children, took refuge in Mansu Shan Monastery in central Lashio soon after the violence started on May 28, 2013.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Ashin Ponnanda, the abbot of the Mansu Shan Monastery, said it is duty of a good man to save people in need regardless of race and religion.
“I would regret only if I neglected them,” he said.
During the violence, the rioters surrounded the town’s oldest Muslim orphanage and set it on fire. But, 270 orphans were lucky to escape from the back doors.
“They blocked a major front door and set the orphanage ablaze. The orphans were lucky that the rioters didn’t know about the exit doors on the backside of the building,” Tin Aung said.
He said they learned that the ownership of the orphanage compound was transferred to Basic Education Primary School in 2000, making it impossible to repair or rebuild it.
“The landownership was transferred without bringing it to our knowledge,” said Tin Aung.
The center was built by an ethnic Muslim man in 1927 to provide education and shelter to orphans from all communities in the region. It was nationalized in 1964 by the then Socialist government, which however gave it back to Muslim community two years later.
The three-story building, which was set on fire by rioters, was built in 1994. However, the ownership for the orphanage compound was in limbo since 1979 as the authorities rejected the application by the trustee to extend the ownership rights.
“They rejected it without giving us a reason,” he said adding: “Then they confiscated the land without any notice or any compensation.”
Tin Aung said he sent letters to senior government officials, including the former President Thein Sein, but didn’t receive any response.
“Former Vice President Dr Sai Mauk Kham and I worked together in the past. So I personally requested him for help. However, nothing happens yet,” he said.
Even current Chief Minister of Shan state Lin Htut had raised the issue with Home Affairs Ministry, Tin Aung said, adding: “He [the chief minister] was then told ‘it is none of your business’.”
He said the authorities offered the Muslim community to take 2 acres of land on the outskirts of the town in exchange for giving up the orphanage compound.
“But they didn’t allow us to build an orphanage on the land. So we didn’t take the offer,” he said.