Security forces tried to restore order yesterday to a Myanmar state placed under emergency rule after a wave of deadly religious violence, as the UN evacuated foreign workers.
The surge in sectarian unrest presents a major test for Burmese President Thein Sein, a former general credited with pushing through a series of dramatic political reforms since the end of decades of military rule last year.
In Sittwe, the capital of western Rakhine State, reporters saw the charred remains of houses, with troops patrolling outside monasteries and mosques.
Groups of men, who appeared to be ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, roamed the city wielding sticks or knives. Most of the shops were closed and the authorities have announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
On the outskirts of Sittwe, where large fires blazed, gunfire was heard after police entered one village.
Large crowds of residents, some armed with swords and knives, were seen patrolling their community.
Rakhine, which is predominantly Buddhist, is home to a large number of Muslims, including the Rohingya, a stateless people described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
A cycle of apparent revenge attacks has gripped the state following the recent rape and murder of a Rakhine woman, allegedly by three Muslims. In response, an angry Buddhist mob beat 10 Muslims to death earlier this month.
At least seven people have died in clashes since Friday and 500 homes have been destroyed, according to officials, but there were fears of a higher toll.
Chris Lewa, the Bangkok-based director of The Arakan Project, an advocacy group that works with Rohingya, said she had received reports that dozens of people had been killed. Reporters were unable to verify the information.
“The authorities, not just Burmese media, seem to ignore all the Muslim deaths,” Lewa said.
Neighboring Bangladesh has stepped up security along the frontier and in refugee camps where tens of thousands of Rohingya live.
Neighboring Bangladesh has stepped up security along the frontier and in refugee camps where tens of thousands of Rohingya live. Border guards yesterday turned away eight boats carrying more than 300 Rohingya.