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Smoke and flames billow from burning buildings in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine state in western Myanmar, after sectarian clashes on Tuesday. Khin Maung Win / Associated Press
Rakhine Buddhist monks pray for peace at the Sule pagoda in central Yangon on Tuesday. Minzayar / Reuters
A Myanmar ethnic Rohingya Muslim cries while protesting the riots near the US and British embassies in Kuala Lumpur. Saeed Khan / Agence France-Presse
Gunshots rang out and residents fled blazing homes in western Myanmar on Tuesday as security forces struggled to contain deadly ethnic and religious violence that has killed at least a dozen people and forced thousands to flee.
The conflict pitting ethnic Rakhine Buddhists against stateless Rohingya Muslims in coastal Rakhine state marks some of the worst sectarian unrest recorded in Myanmar in years. President Thein Sein has declared an emergency and warned that the spiraling violence could threaten the democratic reforms tentatively taking shape in Myanmar after half a century of military rule.
On Tuesday in the regional capital, Sittwe, police fired live rounds into the air to disperse Rohingyas who could be seen burning homes in one neighborhood. Hordes of people ran to escape the chaos.
"Smoke is billowing from many directions and we are scared," said Ma Thein, an ethnic Rakhine resident in Sittwe, where dark smoke from numerous fires covered the skyline into the late afternoon. "The government should send in more security forces to protect both communities."
Refugees pushed back
Bangladesh guards pushed back three more boats of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence, officials said on Tuesday, as the UN refugee agency called for the border to be opened.
Patrol teams intercepted the boats of Rohingya people trying to enter Bangladesh on Monday night across the Naf River, Border Guard Bangladesh Major Shafiqur Rahman said.
"The three boats were carrying 103 Rohingya, including 81 women and children," he told AFP.
The boats were detained and later returned to Myanmar territory, he said, adding the BGB had turned away a total of 11 boats carrying more than 400 Rohingya since Monday.
"On these boats are women and children, and injured people," UNHCR representative Craig Sanders told AFP in Dhaka.
"We are appealing to the Bangladesh government to keep open its border and provide emergency and other humanitarian assistance."
Meanwhile, China says it supports Myanmar's efforts to safeguard domestic stability and ethnic harmony, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.
Liu Weimin made the remarks in response to a question about the unrest in Myanmar during a news briefing.
The Chinese embassy in Myanmar has issued a travel advisory requesting Chinese nationals and enterprises to use caution in the affected areas, Liu said, adding that the embassy will also provide necessary assistance for Chinese nationals in Myanmar.
The Myanmar government is appealing for donations of relief supplies for victims who were left homeless by the fighting in Rakhine.
"For the current livelihood and rehabilitation of the local people, donors and organizations, non-governmental organizations and international non-governmental organizations are requested to work together with the government and to donate food, clothes, cash and kind to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement of their own volition," said an official report on Tuesday.
The government has set up six refugee camps, providing food, shelter and heathcare services to the victims.
These refugee camps are scattered in monasteries, police battalion and schools in Maungtaw and Buthidaung, the worst riot hit townships where 4,154 refugees from 942 households are being accommodated, the report said.
(China Daily 06/13/2012 page11)