Rakhine leader faces Myanmar court after deadly riots

Sittwe, Myanmar: A Rakhine Buddhist politician facing treason charges linked to deadly riots appeared in a Myanmar court on Wednesday, a case that has aggravated ethnic tensions in a region also roiled by the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.
Rakhine state has seethed with ethnic hatreds for years, with persecution of the Rohingya minority culminating in a ruthless army campaign against them that started last August and sparked a mass exodus.
Yet the Buddhist Rakhine community, some of whom are accused of aiding soldiers in the crackdown, has also frequently clashed with the central government and tensions have soared since riots rocked a Rakhine town in January.
Aye Maung, an MP and former chairman of a Rakhine political party known for hardline anti-Rohingya views, was charged for allegedly making an inflammatory speech against the central government on January 15, a day before the unrest.
State-backed media said he railed against the government for treating Rakhine people as “slaves” and said it was the “right time” for the community to launch an armed struggle.
The following evening ethnic Rakhine protesters briefly seized a government building in Mrauk U, an ethnic Rakhine town. Police opened fire on the mob and killed seven people, souring already bitter relations between the community and local authorities.
Aye Maung, who was arrested later that week and faces charges of high treason, incitement and unlawful association, has insisted on his innocence and accused local authorities of a politicised witch-hunt.
The deadly riots exposed the bitter and complex ethnic fault-lines in Rakhine, where some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims based further north have fled over the border into Bangladesh since a brutal military campaign began in August.
Members of the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist population are accused of assisting the military in a campaign of murder, rape and arson against the Rohingya — violence the UN brands “ethnic cleansing”.
Myanmar staunchly denies the charges. — AFP