Rakhine Violence Spreads

The number of torched homes doubles as new violence rages in Burma’s Rakhine state.

rohingya-teknaf-305 A group of Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Burma's Rakhine state attempt to cross the Naf river into Bangladesh, June 13, 2012.

Updated at 5:05 p.m. EST on 2012-10-25

More than 600 homes have been destroyed by fire in western Burma’s Rakhine state as violence between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists spread to six villages, authorities said Tuesday.

Rakhine state attorney general Hla Thein said the death toll in the clashes which began Sunday remained at three, but that 660 straw thatched roof houses had been torched, up from around 300 on Monday.

“A total of 660 houses were burned down. We don't know yet how many houses were ‘Bengali’ and how many were Rakhine,” Hla Thein told RFA’s Burmese service, using the local term for Muslim Rohingya residents who are regarded as immigrants from Bangladesh even though they have long lived in Burma.

“Because some villages have mixed populations of Bengalis and Rakhine, Rakhine houses were also burnt,” he said.

On Monday, the government said three people had been killed in the violence—one Rakhine male and two Muslim females.

Hla Thein said the violence had spread within Rakhine state capital Sittwe’s Mrauk U and Minbya townships to include a total of six villages.

They are Thayet Oak, Paik The, San Bali and Aung Dine villages in Mrauk U township, and Parein Gone and Yaing The village in Minbya township.

A local source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said clashes also occurred in the Rakhine port city of Kyauk Phyu—located about 105 kilometers (65 miles) southeast of Sittwe—where security forces were out in large numbers after a local mosque was set alight.

A state of emergency, which had been established in Mrauk U and Minbya townships on Monday, remained in effect Tuesday but had not been extended to other areas, Hla Tun said. Officials have been ordered to call in the military if the unrest escalates.

Neither Burmese President Thein Sein’s office nor the central government had issued a statement about the first major violence between Muslims and Buddhists since deadly clashes rocked Rakhine state in June.

International rights groups have said Rohingyas bore the brunt of the June violence, which left more than 80 dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Minbya and Mrauk U townships were among those spared curfews during the Rakhine-wide state of emergency that was declared in June.

Fresh violence

Authorities said two ministers from Rakhine state were sent to the affected areas on Monday to meet with security officials and the local public in a bid to control the situation.

The fresh clashes in Rakhine followed weeks of demonstrations against Muslim countries wanting to provide humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya in the wake of the summer violence.

The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) wants to open an office in Rakhine state in a bid to provide aid to Rohingyas reeling from the violence.

Thousands of Buddhist monks and laypeople have demonstrated against the OIC in cities across the country.

But at a press conference on Sunday, Burmese President Thein Sein that the country has no choice but to welcome aid for the Rohingya, or else it will face an international backlash.

Rakhines form the majority in Rakhine state, which is also home to some 800,000 Rohingyas.

The U.N. has called the Rohingya a stateless people and one of the most persecuted groups in the world.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Win Naing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story quoted Hla Tun, a spokesman for the Rakhine state government’s information department, who confirmed the death toll in the clashes. The source was Hla Thein, Rakhine state attorney general.


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