50 dead as Myanmar counts cost of communal unrest
06/16/2012 13:05 GMT
Sittwe, Myanmar, June 16, 2012 (AFP) - Fifty people have been killed in communal clashes in western Myanmar, state media said Saturday, as the UN warned of "immense hardship" faced by thousands displaced by rioting.
State mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar said 50 people had died with 54 injured between May 28 and June 14 in Rakhine state, which has been convulsed by violence between local Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya.
The report did not say whether the updated toll included 10 Muslims beaten to death on June 3 by a Buddhist mob in apparent revenge for the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman, which sparked the violence.
Rights groups and other local sources believe the real number of dead in Rakhine's remote villages could be much higher.
Sittwe was calm but tense on Saturday, with the New Light saying security forces were "restoring peace, stability and security" overnight after the unrest, which poses a serious challenge to Myanmar's reform-minded government.
Nearly 32,000 people from both communities are being housed in scores of camps across Rakhine, officials in Sittwe said on Thursday, after thousands of homes were set ablaze.
A United Nations team witnessed the turmoil on a two-day visit to the region, saying that around 10,000 displaced people were sheltering in Sittwe alone.
"These people are facing immense hardship," it said in a statement late Friday, describing them as both Rakhine and Muslim.
Pledging help for the affected area, UN special adviser Vijay Nambiar praised the government for its "prompt, firm and sensitive" response to the clashes but urged a "full, impartial and credible" probe into the unrest.
The shells of torched houses were all that remained of the mainly Muslim neighbourhood of Narzi, where charred belongings and corrugated roofing spilled into the road amid a heavy military presence, an AFP reporter said Saturday.
Thousands of residents have fled to safety as communities have been devastated by the violence.
"It's impossible to live together again," Hein Nu, an ethnic Rakhine housewife living a few homes away from Narzi told AFP.
A Myanmar official requesting anonymity said 40 boats carrying Muslims apparently to neighbouring Bangladesh had "asked for help" from Myanmar's navy Saturday and were escorted back to Rakhine.
Bangladesh has been turning back Rohingya boats arriving on its shores since the outbreak of unrest.
Decades of discrimination have left the Muslim Rohingya stateless and viewed by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minorities on the planet. About 800,000 of them live in Myanmar, according to the UN, mostly in Rakhine.
The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya to be foreigners, while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.
The violence poses a dilemma for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, currently on a historic trip to Europe, who has faced pressure from Rohingya to speak up on their behalf but risks angering Myanmar's Buddhist majority.
Suu Kyi only referred to the unrest in passing when she spoke in Oslo on Saturday to finally accept her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.
The Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya in the region have accused each other of violent attacks, and recent days residents have been seen on the streets wielding knives, swords and sticks.
Myanmar's President Thein Sein has warned the violence could disrupt the nation's fragile democratic reforms as it emerges from decades of army rule, and it appears set to dominate the political agenda.
"This will be the big issue to be discussed in the coming parliament on July 4," a Myanmar legislative official said requesting anonymity.
© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse
©AFP: The information provided in this product is for personal use only. None of it may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the express permission of Agence France-Presse.