Some 3,000 mostly Muslim residents from Mekhtila remain homeless nearly six months after their homes were burnt to the ground in a deadly bout of religious violence, as a dispute over resettlement plans continues to escalate.
The government wants the residents, who are mostly farmers, to move into a series of apartment blocks away from their original homes. But the displaced Muslims say they will not be able to care for their livestock living in apartments and want their old land plots back.
U Win, an influential figure in the town, blamed the residents for being too stubborn to accept the new housing.
“Our country’s leaders, with utmost good-will, are looking to move them into new apartment buildings from previously living in small huts, but as some of them don’t like the idea and are refusing to sign a resettlement agreement, authorities are unable to go ahead with the plan,” he told DVB.
Some locals have even urged the government to forcibly relocate the residents if they are unwilling to move voluntarily.
“They should be resettled immediately – whether with use of authority or through reasoning – I would like to see something decisive as now it has been over six months,” said Khin Nan from the local charity, Htila Thukha Thamagi.
“Whether the authorities want to go ahead with the [apartment block] plan or the other way around, they should just go ahead.”
He added that although the IDPs, who are currently sheltered in government offices, sport stadiums and make-shift camps, receive regular donations from locals, they live like “prisoners”.
But critics say the new housing plan could enforce segregation between Muslims and Buddhists in Meikthila, and harm the reconciliation process. Some also worry that land belonging to local Muslims may be taken over by Buddhists.
Local humanitarian groups sent a letter of objection to President Thein Sein in July asking that the IDPs just be allowed to rebuild their old homes.
“Many of us are farmers who breed animals such as goats and horses. It’s not convenient to be housed in an apartment. Where will we keep our animals?” a displaced Meikhtila resident told Mizzima in July.
Over 10,000 people, mostly Muslims, were displaced in March after a brawl in a Muslim-owned gold shop culminated in Buddhist mobs ransacking the town, destroying mosques, homes and murdering dozens of Muslim civilians – including 20 children.
Thousands of people, whose houses survived the March riots, have already returned home.