Muslims flee Myanmar unrest as death toll rises
A new wave of sectarian violence in western Myanmar has left five people dead and dozens injured in recent days, triggering another exodus of Muslims to emergency camps, officials said on Thursday.
Hundreds of homes have been burned in the fresh outburst of unrest in Rakhine state, where Buddhist-Muslim clashes have killed at least 95 people since June and displaced tens of thousands, according to the authorities.
“At least five people have been killed and about 80 people injured in four days since October 21 in four townships,” said Rakhine state spokesman Myo Thant.
Houses were also torched in another town on Thursday morning, he said by telephone from the Rakhine state capital Sittwe.
“Soldiers are now helping to provide security,” he added.
Tensions remain at boiling point across Rakhine state with a curfew in force in many areas, while tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya languish in basic camps.
Hundreds more Rohingya have arrived in the state capital Sittwe by boat this week to seek shelter in the camps.
The UN refugee agency estimated that more than 1,000 displaced people had reached Sittwe in recent days.
“Many more are supposed to be on their way,” said spokeswoman Vivian Tan in Bangkok. “These people are all coming to the IDP (internally displaced person) camps close to Sittwe, which are already overcrowded.”
About 75,000 people are estimated to be uprooted in Rakhine state, mostly Rohingya.
There have been a series of protests by Buddhists in Myanmar against the stateless Muslim group, long considered by the United Nations to be one of the most persecuted minorities on the planet.
Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya are viewed as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh by the Myanmar government and many Burmese -- who call them “Bengalis”.
But Bangladesh has turned away Rohingya fleeing the violence.
The bloodshed has cast a shadow over widely praised reforms by President Thein Sein, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
Rights groups fear that the real death toll may be much higher than the official toll.