Rebuilding the community of Meiktila | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 24.04.2013
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Rebuilding the community of Meiktila

After sectarian violence in the central Myanmar city of Meiktila, officials are working hard on reconstruction plans. The riots in March pitted Buddhists against Muslims, leaving dozens dead and a community in ruins.

As you walk through the neighborhoods of Meiktila, it's hard to escape the damage. A month after the violence here, burnt-down houses, destroyed businesses and torched cars dot the streetscape.

On one street, the walls of four neighboring homes are gone and the metal roofs which are now in pieces on the ground are all that remain.

On another block, a row of buildings next to a pick-up truck that was set on fire, have been reduced to rubble.

Burmese military troops still patrol the streets. The soldiers were called in to restore order here after three days of rioting here on March 22, 2013.

Triggered by an argument

The rioting was apparently triggered by an argument in a Muslim-owned gold shop that escalated violently.

Muslims share relief food from private donors as they take refuge at a stadium in Meikhtila (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

Thousands are displaced and staying in makeshift shelters

"Around four o'clock in the late afternoon I heard a monk got killed," recalls Khin Myo Htwe, a Muslim mother of two, who lives in Meiktila. "That's when they started to get really violent. That's when they started to destroy the mosque and buildings. They started killing people and that's when I was really worried for my safety."

Her home was not destroyed but it was vandalized. She and her family are now among thousands of people now being sheltered in schools where classrooms have been turned into bedrooms. In some shelters, quarters are cramped, germs are spreading and people are coming down with diarrhea.

"I just want to move back to my old house and I want to live there peacefully without any conflicts like I experienced before," Khin Myo Htwe says.

Afraid of revenge

At a community well in a neighborhood that was home to Buddhists and Muslims before the rioting, Aye Aye Khaing, a Buddhist, is collecting water to bring back to her husband and three children. She's afraid that Muslims will seek revenge even against Buddhists who had nothing to do with the violence.

"We cannot sleep soundly at night. We worry every night because we don't know when they're going to come in and attack us."

A mosque burns during a riot in Meikhtila REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

A mosque and many homes were burnt down

Just a few streets away, rows of Buddhist and Muslim homes were set on fire. The black burnt frames of some remain while others were burned to the ground.

Aye Aye Khaing says although the government can rebuild homes and businesses, what's really been destroyed here is trust. She believes the current situation is beyond repair.

"It's not possible at all because we've lost a monk on this side. They've also lost a few people on their side. Their homes, their mosques. So they're going to have a lot of anger inside of them," she said.

A question of trust

Aye Aye Khaing's thoughts are echoed by other Buddhists, including Ko Myo who protected seven Muslim neighbors in his home during the first night of rioting.

"We lived in the same neighborhood for a long time, so I didn't want to see anything happening to them. I was worried about their lives," he told DW.

Ko Myo says he's proud that he protected his neighbours that night but says he'll keep some distance the next time he sees them. "I don't even trust the people that I rescued anymore."

When pushed, Ko Myo says he thinks its no longer possible to bring back a sense of community to Meiktila. And, he thinks it will be difficult to reintegrate Muslims and Buddhists who once used to live peacefully side-by-side.

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