World / Asia-Pacific

Violence claims 112 in Myanmar

(Agencies) Updated: 2012-10-27 09:05

At least 112 people have been killed and thousands displaced in Buddhist-Muslim violence in western Myanmar, casting a shadow over the reformist government's attempts to remake the country's international image.

People have fled their homes in droves following the latest clashes in Rakhine state, which was rocked by communal violence in June, which split communities and left tens of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingya living in camps.

"Up until this morning, 51 men and 61 women have died," a spokesman for Rakhine state Win Myaing said, doubling an earlier toll from the renewed violence, which erupted on Oct 21.

The casualties were from both sides, he said, adding that most were stabbed as violence engulfed four townships, forcing an estimated 3,000 Rohingya to escape in boats, hoping to dock near existing refugee camps on the outskirts of Sittwe.

"But we cannot allow them (into the camps) as we are worried of possible clashes with residents. They are on an island opposite Sittwe," said Win Myaing, who conceded authorities are now struggling to provide relief to them.

More than 200 people have been killed in the state since June, according to authorities, who have imposed emergency rule in the face of continued tension in the region.

The United Nations responded to the bloodshed on Friday with a stark warning that Myanmar's reforms are under threat from the continued unrest between ethnic Rakhine and the Rohingya.

"The vigilante attacks, targeted threats and extremist rhetoric must be stopped," a spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement released in Yangon.

"If this is not done ... the reform and opening up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardized."

President Thein Sein has been widely praised for overseeing sweeping reforms in the nation, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

But the Rakhine violence poses a stern challenge to the reform process.

State media on Friday took the rare step of acknowledging the damage the resurgent violence is causing to the nation's image at a pivotal moment.

The "international community is watching", a statement signed by the president's office said the New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

The latest violence, which prompted Myanmar's main Islamic organizations to cancel celebrations for the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday that began on Friday, is seen as serious challenge to the government.

Myanmar's lower house of parliament adopted a motion on Friday to further beef-up security in the affected areas, including around the state's main tourist attraction of Mrauk U and Kyaukpyu.

An AFP reporter in Sittwe, several dozen kilometers from the flashpoint townships, said the situation was relatively calm with security forces dotting the streets but no sign of violence.

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