Burmese remember 1967 ‘rice massacre’

Riots 44 years ago in western Burma that ended with the massacre of more than 200 people by the military were remembered at the weekend in the country’s main city, Rangoon, and towns in Irrawaddy division and Arakan state.

In what has become an annual ceremony in parts of Burma, food was offered to monks and posters calling for justice for the perpetrators of the massacre adorned walls in Arakanese towns.

Violence had flared in Sittwe on 13 August 1967 as rice supplies in the region became severely depleted, but anger quickly turned into a wider antipathy towards the military government that had taken power five years beforehand.

The military was estimated to have killed more 200 people as it fired randomly into crowds. Reports also emerged soon after than some of the rioters had been cremated alive.

Anger is still simmering over the lack of a legitimate investigation into the incident, with no one having been convicted of the shootings, which were ordered by the ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) of Ne Win.

The same ceremony three years ago ended with the arrest of Saw Hla Aung, one of the leaders of what has been dubbed the “rice riots”, when he and other activists daubed walls with anti-regime slogans.

No arrests were reported over the weekend.

Before military rule took a hammer to Burma’s economy and infrastructure, the country had been the world’s leading source of rice, exporting 3.4 million tonnes during its peak year in 1934 and earning the nickname the ‘ricebowl of Asia’.  In 2009 however, total exports were recorded at 1.09 million tonnes.

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