President Thein Sein has ordered heightened security measures in western Burma’s Rakhine state following fresh communal violence this week, a government spokesman said Wednesday, as hundreds of students rallied in the state capital demanding that Muslim Rohingyas be segregated from other students in university classes.
In the first public remarks by the administration on the renewed violence that broke out on Sunday, the president’s office director Zaw Htay said security was being reinforced in a bid to contain spreading clashes.
“The president has now instructed that reinforcements be sent into the conflict areas,” he told RFA’s Burmese service Wednesday.
“Although martial law has been imposed, the security forces could not control the situation yet. That’s why there are more riots in Minbya, Kyauk Phyu, and Mrauk U right now,” he said.
At least three people have been killed and more than 1,000 homes burned down so far, according to officials, since rioting erupted on Sunday night in Mrauk U and Minbya townships, northeast of the state capital of Sittwe.
By Wednesday, clashes had spread southeast to Kyauk Phyu and Mebyon townships, officials said.
Maung Ni, a Rohingya man from Kyauk Phyu, said “thousands” of Rohingyas in the port town had fled their homes amid the fires and were now living on boats in the bay.
“We have no houses. There are no houses in our neighborhood anymore. There's no place to stay, so we got into our motor boats and left,” he said.
A Rakhine resident from Kyauk Phyu said that the violence was started by Rohingyas who set Rakhine houses on fire.
"The violence started around 7:00 last night when they began to throw burning [torches] toward Rakhine houses, and then Rakhines retaliated,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The clashes since Sunday are the first major violence between Muslims and Buddhists since deadly clashes rocked Rakhine state in June, killing dozens and leaving some tens of thousands displaced.
Amid the renewed tensions, on Wednesday some 1,000 university students staged a demonstration in Sittwe, calling for Rohingyas to be segregated from Rakhines and other Buddhist Burmese in classes.
The students demanded an end to education alongside illegal “Bengalis,” using the local term for Muslim Rohingya residents who are regarded as outsiders and immigrants from Bangladesh even though many have lived in Burma for generations.
The education protests follow demonstrations in cities across the country against plans by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference to provide aid to Rohingyas reeling from the June violence.
International rights groups have said the brunt of the June violence was borne by the Rohingya, whom the U.N. considers a stateless people and one of the most persecuted groups in the world.
Some 800,000 Rohingyas live in Rakhine state, where ethnic Rakhines form a majority.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Win Naing. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.