Local government officials in the Rakhine State have been accused by the UN’s Human Rights Watch of actively inciting the violence against the minority Muslims (Buddhists are in the majority). The national government has always denied these allegations, but there is little evidence Muslims in the affected areas have confidence local officials are concerned about their security. In the fall, independent media reports described police officers opening fire on Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State after clashes between the two sides. The washing up of a dead, beaten Rohingya was the catalyst for the incident—Rohingya activists say their people no longer have any trust in local authority figures.
PRS believes that the military’s weakening grip on the country has allowed long-smoldering tensions to bubble to the surface. The roots trace back to colonial days, when Indian Muslims followed the British into Burma and displaced many of indigenous Buddhists for jobs. In response to the escalating violence, the government has attempted to censor the press to prevent the publication of anti-Muslim sentiment. Otherwise, the official response has not been particularly robust; both Sein and Suu Kyi have faced some criticism for not attempting to do more to stop the bloodshed. In the same press conferences in the spring where she decried the government’s inactivity in amending the constitution, Suu Kyi also said it is unhelpful to single out any group as needing special protection. When officials’ unwillingness to advocate for aggressive responses is combined with the depth of the historical animosities and the inadequacies of local police forces, it seems safe to assume sectarian tension will continue to be a destabilizing threat in the short and medium term.