Thursday, 28 March 2013 19:22 Mizzima News
In a televised address to the nation on Thursday at 6 pm local time, Myanmar President Thein Sein said he was saddened by the religious violence that has taken part in central Myanmar in recent days, and warned instigators that he had the power to deploy security forces to protect his fellow citizens.
Thein Sein spoke in response to a series of anti-Muslim riots which have taken place in Myanmar’s Bago and Mandalay regions since Friday when an otherwise innocuous disagreement in a Muslim-owned gold shop spilled over into mob violence.
The riots spread south to other townships that have large Muslim populations, and sources have told Mizzima that attacks on Muslim property and mosques have been well-organized and may be orchestrated by extremists. At least 40 people have been killed since Friday.
Headed by a Buddhist monk named Wirathu, an anti-Muslim campaign known as “969” has spread among Myanmar’s social media this week spouting much vitriol and propaganda against Muslims.
Many activists have suggested that a military hand may be pulling the strings, but in his speech Thein Sein distanced himself from anti-Muslim sentiments.
“I would like to warn all political opportunists and religious extremists who exploit the noble teachings of these religions and tried to plant hatred among people of different faiths for their own self-interest,” he said. “We [the government] will take all necessary and effective action to stop their operations in accordance with our Constitution and our existing laws.”
He said that the nation must expect these conflicts and difficulties to arise during its period of democratic transition, but called on Myanmar citizens to “overcome these challenges while building a harmonious society that safeguards human dignity.”
With regard to criticisms of the security forces who have been accused of failing to intervene to stop the violence, Thein Sein said that the police must be able to act against rioters within the rule of law.
No mention was made, however, of the riot police’s failures in the English version of the speech (below).
Speaking to Mizzima directly after hearing the speech, Khin Maung Swe, founder of the National Democratic Force, said, “It is essential to take action against political opportunists and religious extremists.
“Moreover, people should have been protected by Myanmar’s Police Task Force. The riots spread because of the weakness of the police.”
President’s speech in full (official translation):
“My fellow citizens,
“I would like to take this opportunity to explain to you the circumstances giving rise to the recent riots in Meiktila and the attempts of a small number of people to cause the spread of rioting to other parts of the country. I am deeply saddened to find out that a simple private dispute led to a deadly riot and that some unruly instigators, taking advantage of the disingenuousness of the public, tried to spread the riots to other parts of the country. I will like to reflect my government's position on these riots.
“In general, I do not endorse the use of force to solve problems. However, I will not hesitate to use force as a last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of general public.
“Individual freedom, which we consider to be the fundamental ingredient of democracy, is the kind of freedom that does not infringe on the civil liberties of others. Our Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to worship freely any religion they choose. I would like to warn all political opportunists and religious extremists who exploit the noble teachings of these religions and tried to plant hatred among people of different faiths for their own self-interest. We will take all necessary and effective action to stop their operations in accordance with our Constitution and our existing laws.
“We must expect these conflicts and difficulties to arise during our period of democratic transition. With a united effort, we must face and overcome these challenges together. As we rebuild our society, we must rise above sixty years of historical bitterness, confrontational approaches, and a zero-sum attitude in solving our differences. I want to call on all citizens to rise above these previous erroneous methods, unite our different strengths, and chart a path towards consensus building and democratic deliberation to solve the challenges faced in this transition.
“We have already seen a different approach in this Meiktila incident. To rebuild mutual understanding and trust in the community, it is important to bring together civil society participation, leadership from various religious communities, assistance from international organizations, and responsible reporting from the media. In addition, the tatmadaw [Myanmar armed forces] has also played a meaningful role in safeguarding property and the rehabilitation of victims.
“I am proud to see a concerted effort from civil society organizations, leaders of communities, governmental agencies and security forces to prevent the spread of conflict to other cities and towns. This indicates that citizens from different ethnic and religious groups have worked together to create a civilized society and a proud nation that is based on mutual respect and understanding.
“We did not resort to the use of force immediately mainly because we do not want to let anything happen to our ongoing democratic transition and reform efforts. That said, I am firmly committed to use the power to deploy the security forces vested in me by the Constitution and existing laws to prevent and protect life, liberty and security of my fellow citizens. My fellow citizens, I want to urge you to cooperate with each other on the basis of compassion, tolerance, open-mindedness, and empathy.
“As a nation, it is our firm belief that an inclusive democratic society based on equality for all citizens will ensure peace and stability, especially in our country made up of various ethnic nationalities, religious beliefs, and cultures. Despite our differences, we must find a common ground to coexist peacefully while upholding our democratic ideals. It is my firm belief that we will be able to overcome both our immediate and future challenges if we can embrace our differences and stand united in face of adversity as one people. However, some irresponsible individuals have spread rumors that could incite riots, causing fear among the general public who only wish to live peacefully. I am also very pleased to see local authorities, community and religious leaders coming together to form riot-prevention committees to protect the people
“I would like to make a commitment to the people of Myanmar. In this time of change towards an open society, my government will share information in a truthful and transparent manner. I would also like to request a commitment from you in return. As citizens of this country, we must also distinguish facts from fiction and overcome the dangers posed by rumors in a wise and open-minded manner. If we can keep our commitments, we can overcome these challenges while building a harmonious society that safeguards human dignity.”
For more background:
- Mobs stalk the streets of Meiktila
- Mosques destroyed by mobs in Bago
- International community condemns Meiktila riots