Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Clashes Unsettle Myanmar ; Ethnic Unrest in West Has Killed More Than 60 and Wounded Dozens

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Clashes Unsettle Myanmar ; Ethnic Unrest in West Has Killed More Than 60 and Wounded Dozens

Article excerpt

A spokesman for Rakhine State, in the nation's west, said that 112 people had been killed in clashes that began Sunday between members of the Buddhist Rakhine and the Muslim Rohingya groups.

A resurgence of sectarian violence in western Myanmar has left more than 60 people dead and is renewing concerns that tensions could spread to other parts of the country during Myanmar's fragile transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.

Win Myaing, a local government official, said Friday that 64 people had been killed and more than 2,000 dwellings were destroyed during seven days of sporadic fighting.

Reports from Rakhine State, as the affected area is known, paint a picture of a chaotic and bloody week of clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities, which are increasingly segregated as thousands of Muslims flee to refugee camps.

In the port city of Kyaukpyu, violence flared near a Chinese pipeline project, forcing many Chinese workers to take shelter indoors, according to one resident in the city.

Hundreds of Muslim villagers fled the violence on boats and some are still at sea, according to a community leader.

The fighting has been confined to a relatively narrow slice of the country along the western border. But in a sign of spreading tensions, Muslim leaders across Myanmar said they would not celebrate the important Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha partly out of security concerns. The holiday, which lasts several days, began Friday.

The secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said in a statement Thursday that the country's "fabric of social order could be irreparably damaged" if the violence was not curtailed. The transition to democracy would be in jeopardy if "vigilante attacks, targeted threats and extremist rhetoric" were not stopped, the statement said.

About 50 people were killed in the initial spasms of violence in June between and Buddhists and Muslims, some of whom are known as Rohingya, a vaguely defined ethnic group that is not allowed citizenship and is widely reviled by the Buddhist majority for complex historical reasons. More than 70,000 people, most of them Muslims, remain in camps set up after the June violence.

The current renewal of clashes sent "large numbers" of people fleeing toward the overcrowded camps, the U.N. office in Myanmar said.

The clashes create new challenges for President Thein Sein, who during his 19 months in power has tried to balance a clamor for economic and political changes with the unsettled relations among the country's many ethnic groups.

A statement from Mr. Thein Sein's office on Thursday said the violence in Rakhine State had "a great impact on the national integrity." But the statement was cryptic about the causes of the violence, blaming "persons and organizations" for manipulating the situation.

Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, said the clashes could complicate the country's search for foreign investment. …

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