As many as 12 people were killed Tuesday amidst fresh violence in western Burma’s Rakhine state, as the death toll from clashes between Buddhists and Muslims rose to about 60 with tens of thousands displaced.
The new clashes occurred in Rakhine state’s Yathetaung township, according to state government information officer Win Myaing, who said that at least five people had been killed and 11 injured.
He added that the fighting, which took place between residents of Kutaung and Anautpyin villages in Yathetaung, was touched off by an incident of arson.
“Both sides burned houses on the outskirts of [each other’s] villages,” Win Myaing said.
“We were planning to send rice, cooking oil, and other food to those areas by boat, but waited as the weather has not permitted us to do so. There has been a lot of rain,” he said.
Win Myaing said the clashes occurred early in the morning on Tuesday.
“We were just leaving to deliver the supplies to the area. According to a telegram we received, the fire started at 6:00 a.m. and was only put out by 9:15 a.m.,” he said.
“It said that 11 people were injured, while three Rakhine [Buddhists] and two Muslims died."
But residents of the township told RFA that as many as 10 people had been killed in the violence.
One resident of the Buddhist Rakhine Kutaung village said Muslims came and set fire to his village at around 5:00 a.m.
“When we gathered our villagers and went to Anautpyin village, we were ambushed as we approached,” the Kutaung villager said.
“Ten people from our village were killed, but we haven’t been able to retrieve all of the bodies yet.”
Khin Maung Latt, a member of parliament for Yathetaung township, said he had visited the scene, which he said was back to normal by Wednesday.
“The situation is under control,” he said. “The military and police are in control now.”
The Associated Press quoted Aye Maung, head of a Rakhine political party, as saying that 10 Buddhists and two Muslims were killed in the fighting.
The news agency also said that the Muslims involved in the fighting were Rohingya, who the Burmese government regards as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many of them have lived in the country for generations.
Burmese exile online journal, The Irrawaddy, also reported 12 dead—10 Rakhine Buddhists and two Rohingya Muslims. It said five people were injured and around 20 homes were destroyed by fire.
The latest violence comes after several days of relative calm in Rakhine state after earlier clashes between Buddhists and Muslims left at least 50 people dead and nearly 2,600 homes, some 1,200 of them belonging to ethnic Rakhine and some 1,300 to Rohingya, destroyed in the violence.
Troops on Friday had been patrolling the streets of the state capital Sittwe, where weekly Muslim prayers were cancelled and a dawn-to-dusk curfew was put in place.
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 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.
Ethnic tensions are common in Rakhine, which is home to Burma’s largest population of Muslims, including the Rohingya, though they remain a minority in the largely Buddhist region. The United Nations refugee agency estimates that some 800,000 Rohingya live in Rakhine state.
Decades of discrimination have left the Muslim Rohingya stateless and viewed by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minorities on the planet.
The violence has also left nearly 32,000 people displaced, according to official figures, though the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) put the number of displaced in need of immediate emergency assistance at around 90,000.
The WFP said that in the past week it has distributed food to around 60,000 people in Rakhine’s Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, near the Bangladesh border, as well as in Sittwe and the town of Rathedaung.
Some Rohingya fleeing the violence by boat to neighboring Bangladesh, already burdened with about 300,000 Rohingya living in its poor southeast, were turned back last week, drawing condemnation from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
North of Sittwe, people fleeing the fighting have been straining resources in Yathetaung township, where the latest violence occurred, and where 12,000 people, mostly Rakhine Buddhists, are living, officials told RFA.
The violence in Rakhine state drew comment from Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who while addressing a news conference in the Swiss capital Bern last week, called for rule of law in Burma as well as clear citizenship regulations and efficient border enforcement policies.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.