"Eyewitnesses I spoke to thought the mob violence might have been organised ahead of time"
The eyewitnesses I spoke to told me that hundreds of people gathered to destroy Muslim-owned businesses in a very short time span, which they found suspicious – like it was perhaps organised ahead of time. They said many had sticks with them, and used them to destroy the inside of the goldsmith’s store and others. Later, in the evening, they started lighting mosques and Muslims’ homes on fire. The police just stood by.Mobs also surrounded an Islamic religious school, trapping teenage students and teachers inside. [Several Muslim Burmese activists, citing local contacts, believe that some of them were killed after the school was set on fire this morning. Local authorities have said that a school was burned, but did not mention any deaths. FRANCE 24 has so far been unable to independently confirm these claims].The Muslims I’ve talked to in Meikhtila are terrified. Many have shut themselves up inside their homes, for fear of being killed if they leave; but many others have already fled town [Buddhists have reportedly fled the violence as well]. They feel like there is nobody to protect them there."Muslims in Burma don't have anyone to turn to for help"Several leaders from the 88 Generation Students’ group [an activist group led by people who participated in the 1988 pro-democracy students’ revolt, which was quashed by the military junta at the time] travelled to the town today, to try to calm the situation. But it seems that the mobs aren’t listening to them at all. [Editor’s Note: Min Ko Naing, one of the members of the 88 Generation who travelled to Meikhtila on Thursday, told Radio Free Asia: “We would like to request everyone to stop spreading violence. Most local residents are trying to prevent the unrest from spreading.”]Over the last few decades, the authorities in Burma have trained the population to hate Muslims. Many leaders use derogatory terms for Muslims in public, like "kalar". Recently, things have become even worse with the conflict in Rakhine state and the increasing influence of a powerful monk in Mandalay, Wirathu [Editor’s Note: Wirathu is known for his anti-Islam views. According to several Muslim Burmese activists, he recently visited Meikhtila, where he reportedly criticised the fact that many businesses were owned by Muslims]. We don’t have anyone to turn to for help. Not even Aung San Suu Kyi [Burma’s opposition leader, who after years of house arrest, now has a seat in parliament] will help us, because in Burma, speaking out for Muslims means losing votes.