By MRATT KYAW THU & HTUN KHAING | FRONTIER
YANGON — A raid on a home in Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township aimed at finding “illegal” residents from Rakhine State last night sparked a tense confrontation between police, Buddhist nationalist activists and local residents.
Police even took the unusual step of firing into the air to disperse angry residents in the early hours of this morning.
The incident erupted after immigration and police officers, together with monks and nationalist activists, entered an apartment on Naung Yoe Street, between 122nd and 123rd streets, at about 10pm.
Their aim, they said, was to find stateless “Bengali” Muslims from Rakhine State in the apartment. They said the owner was giving sanctuary to the Muslims, who identify as Rohingya and are not allowed to leave Rakhine State without official permission.
However, the search did not turn up any illegal residents. After checking the identity documents of those living in the apartment, they returned to the street, where a melee soon broke out.
It’s the second incident involving extremist Buddhist nationalists in 11 days. On April 28, they pressured authorities in Anawmar 1 Ward, Thaketa Township, to shutter four Islamic schools on the grounds that they were also serving as places of worship.
There is a link between the two incidents. On both days, nationalist leaders appeared in court facing charges under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, for making, publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report “with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state or against public tranquility”.
On both days, the incidents occurred after the court appearances had concluded.
The Thaketa crisis
On April 28, the Kamaryut Township Court began hearing the case against U Nyarna Dhamma, chair of the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Union; U Thu Saitta, PMMU secretary; U Parmaukkha, the head monk of Magway Monastery; and nationalist activists Ko Win Ko Ko Latt, Ko Naing Win Tun, Ko Thet Myo Oo and Ko Nay Win Aung.
The charges stemmed from a protest outside the United States embassy a year earlier.
U Wirathu and dozens of extreme nationalists attended the court on April 28. Then after the hearing ended at around 3pm, their supported travelled together across town to Tharketa.
They demanded to shut four Islamic schools that they said were also being used as a place to worship. Eventually the authorities acceded to their demand and closed the madrassas.
Thaketa Mark II
On May 9, Win Ko Ko Latt and two other nationalist leaders, Ko Phoe Thar and Ko Naungtaw Lay, appeared in Bahan Township Court, where they are also facing a charge under section 505(b). Like the previous incident, their supporters attended court, this time wearing T-shirts reading “No 505(b)”. The judge confirmed bail and fixed the next court date for the last week of May.
Prior to the court appearance, members of nationalist groups spread messages on social media saying that “a bigger movement than Thaketa is coming”.
After the court hearing ended, they went to Mingalar Taung Nyunt.
What happened on May 9?
About 50 people including monks arrived in five light trucks in front of the building at 105-107 Naung Yoe Street. Four policemen, some immigration officers and about five nationalists entered an apartment on the eighth floor.
The apartment is owned by Daw Win, 47, a real estate broker. “They said nothing – just shouted at us to get out of our rooms and show our ID cards,” she told Frontier. “My nephew searched our lockers but couldn’t find them. Then I found our ID cards and household list and showed them. Then they left.”
Daw Win said she recognised two of the civilians who entered her apartment, one of whom she had recently argued with over a broker fee. The man had demanded K1 million from her, she said.
“He threatened me many times. Then we negotiated for me to pay him K300,000, which I did in front of the ward administrators. But he was not satisfied and then tonight they [nationalists] came to my apartment,” she said.
When the group entered the building, about 20 people waited at the rear of the building, ward administrator U Soe Myint told Frontier, possibly to stop any illegal residents from slipping away.
After the search ended without success, monks, activists, policemen and immigration officers gathered under the portico of the building, where residents had gathered to watch. They shouted, “Go away, stay away,” according to witnesses.
Fighting soon erupted between the nationalists and the residents. One resident, Ko Zarni Maung, was beaten seriously in front of the policemen, who did nothing to intervene. A taxi driver took him to Yangon General Hospital for treatment, witnesses said.
When the nationalists and policeman left the scene, residents threw stones, empty bottles and sticks at them, before both groups ran away from the area.
Then the nationalists gathered in front of Mingalar Taung Nyunt Police Station. Police Colonel Myo Swe from the Yangon Region Police Force’s information unit – who had also been present at Thaketa on April 28 – met the leaders of the group and asked them to return to their monasteries and homes.
However, one light truck drove around the area, its passengers calling out insults. At about 1am, the residents of the area around 122nd Street gathered again and threw empty bottles and stones at a police car, prompting officers to fire two shots into the air. At about 2am the situation had returned to normal.
More to come?
The next trial date is May 12, when the six who appeared in Kamaryut Township Court on April 28 are scheduled to attend. It’s unclear what the nationalists are planning, if anything.
But if the past weeks are any indication, vigilance will be required. Some appear to be using social media to try to create anxiety and unrest.
While the tense situation was unfolding in Mingalar Taung Nyunt, a Facebook account named Kyikyi Shwe, which is regularly used to spread hate speech against Muslims, published on its timeline the comment, “There are killings between Muslims and nationalist in Thingangyun.”
Thingangyun Police Station said no such incidents were reported last night.
TOP PHOTO: Police officers stands at the edge of a crowd gathered during last night’s confrontation in Mingalar Taung Nyunt. (Teza Hlaing | Frontier)