YANGON, Myanmar — President Thein Sein vowed to charge the people behind an upsurge in violence in western Myanmar between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that has killed 112 in the past five days.
The clashes in Rakhine State have killed 51 men and 61 women, and left 68 people injured, including 10 children, Win Myaing, a local government spokesman, said by phone Friday. The situation is now under control and security personnel are patrolling the area, he said.
The death toll is higher than in sectarian violence in June, when about 90 people were killed in clashes after a Rakhine woman was raped and murdered. Sein has struggled to bring peace to the area as he expands political freedom and seeks to attract investment.
“In a situation where Myanmar is at the moment, trying to exercise a certain degree of change, this situation is highly disturbing and it can undermine what has taken place,” said Basil Fernando, director of policy and programs at the Asian Human Rights Commission. “There isn’t sufficient attention at the moment to provide security to put down this kind of violence and maintain some kind of peace.”
China National Petroleum Corp. is building oil and gas pipelines that start in Rakhine state on the Indian Ocean and stretch to southern China. Woodside Petroleum Ltd., Australia’s second-largest oil and gas producer, said this month it would join Daewoo International Corp. in an exploration venture off the coast of western Myanmar.
Rioters torched eight religious buildings and destroyed almost 2,000 homes, according to a presidential announcement published in the New Light of Myanmar today.
The government has identified instigators behind the violence and pledged to bring them to justice, the statement said. The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar.
“The U.N. is alarmed by reports of displacements and destruction,” Ashok Nigam, a U.N. official in Myanmar, said in a statement dated Thursday. “Access to all affected people is critical and the U.N. appeals for immediate and unconditional access to all communities in accordance with humanitarian principles.”
The United Nations has received about $15 million in pledges to bring aid to about 75,000 displaced people in Rakhine state, the world organization said in a report released Oct. 24.
Delegations from the United States, Turkey, Malaysia, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have visited the area in the past few months, according to the report.
“Obviously, there are deeply felt tensions and religious tensions here,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday in Washington. “But at the root of this problem is the extreme poverty and lack of opportunity that plagues both communities in Rakhine state.”
The OIC this week called on Myanmar to do all in its power to stop the violence and allow Rohingya Muslims citizenship and other rights.
“Reports of forced evacuation, targeted violence against women, including rape and the destruction of home and villages are deplorable,” the 57-nation group said in an Oct. 23 statement.
Sein, who in June declared a state of emergency to control the fighting, formed a 27-member commission on Aug. 17 that includes Muslim leaders to investigate the violence.
Authorities moved to halt the ethnic fighting as quickly as possible, the government said in an Aug. 21 statement, saying the clashes occurred “between two communities within a State of Myanmar following a criminal act.”
The U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, visited the area in August. He told reporters in New York yesterday that there was “endemic discrimination” against the Muslim minority and that Buddhist monks were taking part in protests against the Rohinyga.
An investigation by the government, due in November, has been delayed, according to Quintana. He said that while some Myanmar authorities are ready to look for solutions, others are reluctant to tackle the politically sensitive issue.
Human Rights Watch estimates about 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar, which has a population of about 64 million, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Many Myanmar citizens consider the Rohingya illegal migrants from what is now Bangladesh, according to Human Rights Watch, which says the presence of the Rohingya in modern-day Myanmar predates the start of British colonial rule in 1824.
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