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Cyclone threatens Rakhine State

Myanmar's authorities were on alert Saturday as a cyclone threatened to hit the west of the country where around 140,000 people displaced by communal violence languish in flood-prone camps.

Villagers in Myebon Township’s Pyinone village survey damage to their homes on October 27, 2010, five days after Cyclone Giri hit western Burma.Local radio in Rakhine State, rocked last year by violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, issued warnings while loudspeakers relayed messages to people in villages, Ye Htut, spokesman for the President's Office, said on his official Facebook page.

Meteorologists said it was unclear whether the cyclone would hit Rakhine over the next days or veer further west to neighbouring Bangladesh, but Myanmar's Department of Meteorology and Hydrology said heavy rains and strong winds were likely to batter Rakhine regardless.

The UN's disaster assessment agency later said the cyclone, was likely to strike land near Chittagong, in Bangladesh, but preparations to provide relief in Rakhine were underway, including providing shelter for up to 13,000 displaced people in the coastal capital of Sittwe.

Rakhine, one of Myanmar's poorest and most remote states, is particularly vulnerable to heavy storms, with makeshift camps housing tens of thousands of mainly Rohingya people displaced by an eruption of communal violence last year.

"Of particular concern is the welfare of some 140,000 IDPs (internal displaced persons) that are living in poorly constructed camps or makeshift accommodation in Rakhine State," the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in statement late Saturday.

"Many of the camps are located in low-lying coastal areas susceptible to tidal surge."

In March the UN warned of "yet another tragedy when the monsoon rains hit (the region)" with displaced people -- already short of food, shelter and medicine -- having nowhere to go if a storm strikes.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled the unrest and insanitary camp conditions in recent months on rickety boats, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

Around 140,000 people died when cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008. The cost of repairing the damage was estimated at over four billion dollars.

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