Burmese President Thein Sein toured a strife-wracked western state yesterday after anti-Muslim riots left one dead and homes razed in a resurgence of sectarian violence that has overshadowed internationally lauded political reforms.
Thein Sein arrived in Rakhine on Tuesday on his first trip to the region since a wave of religious bloodshed first erupted in June last year, leaving dozens dead and displacing tens of thousands of people.
“The main focus of the trip is the communal violence,” said a presidential official, who asked not to be named.
In the latest clashes, a mob of hundreds of Buddhists burned houses and stabbed a 94-year-old woman to death in the Thandwe area of Rakhine on Tuesday, police said, reporting that the violence had since abated.
“There was no more violence last night. The situation is calm,” a Rakhine State police official told reporters yesterday.
Four Buddhists traveling on a motorbike were injured when attacked by Muslims on Tuesday, while a fifth was missing, he said.
“They were beaten and one is missing... we don’t know whether he is dead or ran away,” the official added.
About 250 people have been killed and more than 140,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of violence around the country since June last year, mostly in Rakhine.
Thein Sein was due to hold meetings with Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities during his two-day tour, but it was still not decided if a previously scheduled visit to the Thandwe area would go ahead, his office said.
Burmese Minister of Immigration Khin Yi told reporters he still expected Thein Sein to go to Thandwe.
The former general-turned-president spent Tuesday visiting a different area of Rakhine populated mainly by stateless Rohingya Muslims.
In a message to a multi-faith conference, which was carried in state media yesterday, Thein Sein lamented “instigations fueling minor crimes into conflicts between the two communities and two religions.”
“Such instability based on religion and race harms and delays the state’s reforms, and tarnishes the national image internationally,” the president said.
Four major Burmese Muslim organizations released an open letter to Thein Sein late on Tuesday calling on the government to take urgent law enforcement action.
“The concerns of minority Muslims around the country have reached peak levels. They feel they have no security,” the letter said.
Two outbreaks of unrest in Rakhine State in June and October last year left about 200 people dead, mostly Rohingya who are denied citizenship by Myanmar and viewed by the government and many locals as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The conflict has since spread around the ethnically diverse country, with members of the wider Muslim community targeted by armed Buddhist mobs.