Thandwe (Myanmar), 2 October
Terrified women and children hid in forests and security forces patrolled tense villages in western Myanmar today, residents said, after sectarian clashes that left five Muslims dead.
President Thein Sein was expected to visit the violence-hit area as part of his first official visit to Rakhine state since a wave of religious bloodshed erupted there last year. Sectarian bloodshed has overshadowed internationally praised political reforms and piled pressure on the former junta general, who took power in 2011.
The USA said it was “deeply concerned” about the latest unrest and urged authorities to respond “decisively”, in a statement issued by its embassy in Yangon.
Around 800 Buddhist rioters torched homes and attacked local Muslims in a village in the area of Thandwe yesterday, according to the authorities.
“The death toll rose to five ~ four men and a woman,” a Rakhine police official who did not want to be named told AFP, adding that the victims were all killed during Tuesday’s violence.
A 94-year-old Muslim woman, who suffered stab wounds, was among the dead.
Four Rakhine Buddhists were injured in clashes and a fifth was missing, while 59 houses and a mosque have been torched since tensions flared on Saturday, police said.
Around 250 people have been killed and more than 1,40,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of inter-religious violence around the country since June 2012, mostly in Rakhine.
A local Muslim official said that police had fired warning shots but could not control the mob. “We are disappointed that we have a government that is unable to provide security for us,” the official, Myint Aung, said.
“We are living in fear. Many people, including women and children, are hiding in the forest nearby,” he said.
AFP reporters on the scene saw a large security presence in the area, which appeared quiet today.
The region is home to the popular tourist destination of Ngapali Beach although no foreigners were believed to have been caught up in the unrest.
Thein Sein held meetings with members of Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities during his two-day tour. He spent yesterday 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 on Wednesday, Thein Sein lamented “instigations fuelling minor crimes into conflicts between the two communities and two religions”.