Authorities have arrested 60 people in connection with the latest wave of sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in western Burma's Rakhine state, local people and an official said Thursday, as more Rohingya Muslims fleeing the country were turned back by Bangladesh.
Some 60 Muslims from Anautpyin village were arrested Thursday over Tuesday’s clashes in Yathetaung township and sent to the state capital of Sittwe, local people told RFA.
Hla Myint, Yathetaung’s Rakhine Nationalities Development Party chairman, confirmed the arrests, saying the 60 were taken in after police and military security found bodies buried in Anautpyin and interrogated suspects.
“Sixty of those who killed and buried [the victims] were arrested and sent to Sittwe today," he said.
The clashes broke out between Rohingya Muslim villagers from Anautpyin and Rakhine Buddhist villagers from Kutaung early Tuesday morning after several days of relative calm in the region following violence that has rocked the state since early June.
Hla Myint said officials had determined the death toll from the Yathetaung conflict was 12, revising initial estimates.
“Yesterday we didn't get the bodies [of victims of the violence] and knew of only five who were missing. Today, security forces went there and got the bodies and now [we] know the exact number: 10 ethnic Rakhines and two Muslims, so altogether 12 casualties,” he said.
He added that the clashes had displaced thousands more from their homes, adding to the 12,000 refugees already living in camps in the township earlier this week.
“Now [another] 5,000 people from various villages have come to take refuge in refugee camps in Yathetaung” since Tuesday’s outbreak of violence, he said.
An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced by fighting that has killed about 60 people across Rakhine state since early June, according to relief agencies.
Rohingya leaders say the real number of dead in their own communities could be higher than figures given by authorities.
The clashes were sparked when 10 Muslims were beaten to death by a Buddhist mob while traveling on a bus on June 3 in apparent revenge for the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman, although it was later learned that the passengers had no connection to the incident.
On Monday, a district court in Maungdaw, near where the bus attack occurred, sentenced two Rohingya men to death in the rape and murder case. A third suspect allegedly committed suicide while in police custody.
Win Myaing, a Rakhine State information department officer, told reporters Thursday that the situation in the state is under control and that markets will reopen soon. The state government is planning resettlement for those who have lost their homes during unrest.
He denied unofficial media reports that have put the death toll of the unrest as high as 80, saying some of those reported dead were actually only injured.
"Some [of those ] are just hospitalized … though they were reported as deaths in their news. The total is 62 from all of the unrest,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh continued to turn away Rohingya fleeing the violence in Rakhine, refusing some 16 new arrivals on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
At least 2,000 Rohingyas have tried to enter Bangladesh since early June, though most have been turned back, despite U.N. pleas for the country to accept them and grant them refugee status.
Some Rohingya who made it to Bangladesh told RFA they witnessed helicopters opening fire on boats carrying Rohingya trying to enter Bangladesh earlier this month.
Others said they had reached Bangladesh only after being turned back and that they had witnessed children drowning and starving to death during their perilous journey.
Decades of discrimination have left the Muslim Rohingya stateless and viewed by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minorities on the planet.
Burma considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship, while Bangladesh says Rohingya have been living in Burma for centuries and should be recognized there as citizens.
Bangladeshi officials estimate that a total of 300,000 Rohingya people live in the country, with only about a tenth of them in two official refugee camps in the southern district of Cox's Bazaar.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine and San San Tin for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.