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Rakhine State death toll continues to rise

The death toll in Rakhine State has risen to at least 56 people dead and thousands of homes destroyed by fire as reports of new violence come in between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists that erupted on Sunday, a state official said on Thursday.

A massive fire in Kyaukphyu Township, Arakan (Rakhine) State, on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2012. Renewed sectarian violence this week has up to 56 dead and up to 2,000 homes burned, authorities said. Photo: Thein Hlaing / Mizzima
A massive fire in Kyaukphyu Township, Arakan (Rakhine) State, on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2012. Renewed sectarian violence this week has up to 56 dead and up to 2,000 homes burned, authorities said. Photo: Thein Hlaing / Mizzima 
Residents told Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Burmese service that some of the casualties occurred when the military opened fire in an apparent bid to restore order. Authorities said they were unclear what caused the resumption of violence Sunday night. The Rohingya and Rakhine communities have blamed each other for starting the clashes.

Rakhine State spokesman Win Myaing said that this week's deaths included 25 men and 31 women who died as the violence spread across townships, according to foreign news agency reports. Information from the region is spotty and hard to verify.

He said that 64 people were also injured in the clashes, including both Rohingyas and Rakhine casualties, said RFA.

Meanwhile, international governments and human rights groups are calling for a decisive end to the violence in the region, where aid groups are already providing shelter and food for up to 75,000 displaced persons from earlier clashes that started in June.

Violence was reported in Mrauk U, Minbya, Rathedaung, and Kyauktaw townships, north of the state capital of Sittwe, and southern Rakhine’s Kyauk Phyu city and Mebyon township, officials and residents said. Some of the areas have been placed under emergency rule.

The community violence was the most serious since June, which left more than 80 dead, 3,000 homes destroyed and 75,000 residents displaced, mostly Rohingyas, now living in temporary camps.

Government security forces could not stem the most recent violence, Zaw Htay, director of President Thein Sein’s office in the capital Naypyitaw, told RFA on Wednesday. He said that reinforcements would be sent to the area to ensure that further clashes were prevented.

“Although martial law had been imposed, the security forces were unable to control the situation. That’s why there have been additional riots in Minbya, Kyauk Pyhu and Mrauk U,” he said. “The president has now instructed the military to send reinforcements into the conflict areas.”

The renewed tensions followed demonstrations in Rangoon, Mandalay and other cities across the country against plans by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to provide aid to Rohingyas reeling from the June violence. Buddhist monks led many of the demonstrations.

International rights groups have said the brunt of the June violence was borne by the Rohingya, whom the UN considers one of the most persecuted groups in the world. They are denied citizenship in Burma, and are often called “Bengali.”

Some 800,000 Rohingyas live in Rakhine State, where ethnic Rakhines form a majority.

In Washington, the US State Department urged Burma to allow full humanitarian access to the affected areas, launch a dialogue aimed at reconciliation, and open investigations into the violence. The UN, Britain and other governments have called for similar decisive actions.

“We join the international community and call on authorities within the country, including the government, civil and religious leaders to take immediate action to halt the ongoing violence,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.

Ko Aung Myat Kyaw, a member of parliament for the Rakhine Nationals Development Party, said the government was taking steps to provide aid and to mediate between the Rakhine and Rohingya communities.

“The state government is working to solve the problems. State ministers have gone to the places where these incidents are taking place and are mediating. The central government is not in a position to mediate effectively,” he said.

Residents said the authorities had opened fire in a bid to control the violence and that both Rakhines and Rohingyas suffered casualties.

Last Updated ( Friday, 26 October 2012 12:59 )  

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