The Other Side of their Narrative

(The Mog Nation Wiki, an archive)

AsiaWeek – 14 July 1978

Rangoon correspondent U Maung Maung reports on his recent (July 1978) visit to the towns of Aykab (Sittwe), Buthidaung and Maungdaw:

Extracts: From the minarets of mosques in the townships I toured, I could hear the familiar chant calling the devout to prayer. The sound seemed to support the government’s contention that there was no religious persecution in the area.

I certainly saw no sign of antipathy among the non-Muslims towards Muslims.

Any visitor can see that the Muslim population in these townships is significant. According to the 1973 census, 209,873 of Maungdaw’s 223,616 people were Muslims while in Buthidaung there were 138,547 Muslims in a total population of 263,317. In Akyab, the capital of Arakan state, Muslims dominate.

The problem is that the proportion of “Chittagong Muslims” among these groups has been steadily rising; these are people who moved into Burma from the Chittagong area of Bangladesh. They have settled down as farmers and fishermen, but many are active in the smuggling trade. They apparently have access to relief goods supplied to Bangladesh, such as clothing and medicine. They also bring bicycle accessories, Horlicks, Ovaltine, biscuits and talcum powder through the well-trodden jungle paths into Maungdaw. In the village of Phone Nye Leik, all the people I saw were Chittagong Muslims.

Burma looks upon these people as illegal immigrants. It says that many of them have now fled to Bangladesh – not because they’re Muslims but because their illegal status was being exposed. Burma does not even concede that they are refugees, preferring the term “fugitives”.

While arguments go on at governmental levels, problems on the ground are continuing. People described as “bad elements” are apparently in a situation to exploit the situation. Many of them are said to have crept back into Arakan from the camps in Bangladesh. They are certainly keeping themselves busy. On my way back, I saw a village near Buthidaung belching smoke; enquiries revealed that it had been set on fire by some Chittagongians [sic] who had returned for that purpose and then vanished again.

The Mog Nation Wiki
Kyaw Zaw Oo

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