The following is an edited interview with Ali Ahmed, 60, a retired imam of the Tha Yel Tha Mein village in Bago Region where a Buddhist mob wrecked a mosque, a Muslim cemetery and other property on June 23. This is his version of events that day as told to Coconuts Yangon reporter Aung Naing Soe.
As far as I remember, I was taking a rest after the afternoon prayer on that day.
Around 1:45pm, my wife was shouting that there was fighting in front of our house. She said that Abdul Rashid [a local resident who was part of the original dispute that sparked the violence] was attacked by Buddhists. Then I went there, and I saw a crowd with rods and swords shouting “Kill Kalars! Remove Kalars!” [Kalars is a derogatory word for Muslims in Myanmar]
But there was a chief monk, U Pandi, from this village and another seven or so monks in front of that crowd. And there were four or five police officers. They were blocking them and they were telling the crowd not to come forward. And I was telling them to control their people and I also said I’ll control my people as I was an imam in this village for over 17 years and people from this village listen to me. And I told all my people to just stay in the house.
Then the road was empty at our side. You couldn’t even see a dog.
But the crowd over there was still the same and they were shouting. There were some leaders from the other side, they blocked the road with motorbikes and I thought they were controlling their people together with monks.
Around 4pm, the crowd was decreasing. Person after person came out and I asked them where they were going. They said they were going to pick their children up from the school. All the students used to come out of the school together randomly but Buddhists students came out in lines first on that day. But all Muslims students were still in the school.
The monk [who was stopping the crowd] came inside his monastery and local leaders left and they also removed motorbikes blocking the road.
Then there were only thugs from nearby villages who were unhappy with the situation of Muslims in this village. They’re standing in the crowd. Then the crowd was getting bigger again after monks and leaders left.
I went to my people and told them to pick up their children one by one. They signed at the school and they picked up their children.
At that time, the crowd is coming closer to us and shouting “beat all Kalars!” And I told my people to run into the police station. At that time, a few Muslims and I ran towards my house that is close to the mosque. They’re following us. Then we ran into paddy fields but the crowd with around 30 people with rods was following us and still shouting “beat Kalars!” Although some of them were my friends I realized that they were really going to do it. So we ran into the police station again.
Some were running farther into the paddy fields or toilets of the school. I saw some students and their parents hiding also in the police station. Then the mob approached the police station and kicked the door and asked us to come out. Then the police officers told them not to come closer.
There were only a few police officers in the station. I couldn’t express my feeling at that time, I was too afraid as I had never experienced such a kind of thing. Those people from the mob told us during the other religious conflicts in other townships that we should not be worried.
We heard the sounds of them destroying the mosque while hiding in the police station. Then the warehouse owned by Abdul Rashid was destroyed. Then they destroyed his house too and some of them went to the Muslim cemetery and they destroyed it as well. We heard the sounds of them destroying the buildings.
During iftar [breaking the fast during Ramadan] time, we asked for water from the police station. We only came out of the police station the next morning. We couldn’t sleep for that whole night.