Oct 04, 2012

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Buddhist Temples Set Ablaze During Religious Violence

A dozen Buddhist temples and 45 homes were set ablaze during riots in Cox’s Bazar.

Below is an article published by The Irrawaddy:

Rohingya Muslims from Burma have been blamed for a wave of religious violence that swept through Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar over the weekend.

More than a dozen Buddhist temples and 45 houses were set ablaze after hundreds of Muslim protesters ran riot in country’s southeast on Saturday night in apparent retaliation for a picture of a burned Quran holy text that appeared on the Facebook social networking website.

The protests originated in Ramu, also called Panowa, where rioters burned nine temples, with the violence later spreading to Cekmet, Okkyia, Ukkyia and Pottyia where another five temples and more than 40 houses were destroyed, according to local sources.

Local people, politicians and law enforcement officers have blamed Rohingya agitators from over the border with Burma for the violence, according to a report in The Daily Star. Ramu Upazila Chairman Sohel Sarwar told the Dhaka-based newspaper that Muslim insurgents from Burma may have instigated the violence.

A pagoda over 250 years old was burned down in Panowa while six temples in Okkyia and one in Pottiya were also torched.

“I woke up with my phone ringing at 10 pm and my friend told me to watch outside the temple,” an Arakanese Buddhist abbot in Ramu told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “Then I found a lot of people had gathered and were burning other temples and later came to mine.

“They arrived at my temple around midnight and I found that many of them were only young people. We could not do anything except cry when I looked at the destroyed things,” added the abbot who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

“They destroyed all the furniture and they even set it on fire, but fortunately it did not spread.”

The Bangladeshi authorities toured the affected places of worship on Sunday to inspect damage and offered to help pay for repairs.

“I did not move or clean things that had been destroyed in order to show the authorities how terrible it was,” said the abbot who has lived in Ramu for 27 years. “I want them to help all of us live together as one community instead of attacking each other based on religion.”

A Buddhist man from Ramu was accused of uploading a photo of a burned Quran on his Facebook profile which sparked the weekend disturbances. The Cox’s Bazar district authorities imposed a curfew on Sunday to prevent any further violence.

The Daily Star reported on Monday [1 October 2012] that around 166 people had been arrested in different parts of Cox’s Bazar, bordering western Burma’s Arakan (Rakhine) State, accused of spreading the violence which moved from Ramu to Chittagong.

Police arrested four alleged rioters in Ramu, the principle city of Cox’s Bazar, at around midday on Monday while they were preparing to stage another protest, according to the report.

Buddhist people are a minority in Muslim-dominated Bangladesh. Residents say that the local authorities warned Buddhists via television on Sunday not to travel outside due to the simmering tensions.

“Everyone who is Buddhist here is worried for their security because they do not understand what will happen next,” said Maung Aye, a reporter from Narinjara News based in Dhaka.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission issued a press release on Sunday that requested that Facebook removes the inflammatory photo of the damaged Quran. Bangladeshi security forces have been deployed in different areas of Cox’s Bazar where Buddhist people live to keep the peace in the meantime.