Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Interethnic clashes between majority Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims have caused the death of more than 100 people in Rakhine, a state in western Myanmar on the border with Bangladesh, this according to official government sources. The authorities are now concerned that the strife could harm the country's reputation, undermining the peace process and democratisation. In view of this, President Thein Sein warned that the military and police would act to restore peace by force if necessary.
Rakhine State spokesman Win Myaing said 112 people died in clashes that began Sunday between Buddhist Rakhinese and the Muslim Rohingya, with 72 people reportedly injured, including 10 children. Earlier, the authorities had announced that almost 2,000 homes had been burnt down during the violence. As a result, they imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
Parts of the state have been under a state of emergency since 10 June. Matters could still get worse. Until yesterday, the official number of victims was low according to the media because of delays by local officials in making public the real figures.
In a strongly worded statement, Myanmar President's Office warned that manipulators responsible for the recent sectarian clashes in Rakhine state would be exposed. Because of them, Burmese Muslims have cancelled celebrations for the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha).
The situation is undermining Myanmar's international image, the president said. For this reason, "The army, police, and authorities in cooperation with local people will try to restore peace and stability and will take legal action against any individual or organisation that is trying to instigate the unrest".
Back in June, the District Court in Kyaukphyu (Rakhine) imposed the death sentence on three Muslims for the rape and murder in late May of Thida Htwe, a young Buddhist Rakhinese woman. The decision sparked sectarian violence between Muslims and Buddhists. In the days following the trial, an angry mob attacked Muslims unconnected with the incident, killing ten.
As hatred spiralled out of control, 29 more people, 16 Muslims and 13 Buddhists, were killed. According to official sources at least 2,600 homes were also set on fire, whilst hundreds of Rohingya sought refuge abroad.
According to United Nations estimates, Myanmar is home to 800,000 Rohingya. But the government does not count them as one of the country's 135 ethnic groups and denies them citizenship.
Similarly, neighbouring Bangladesh treats as illegal immigrants with no citizenship rights, to be expelled whenever they try to land on its beaches.