Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A group of Arakanese Buddhists, backed by Burmese security forces, attacked the mostly Rohingya Muslim village of Tan Du Char Yar, Maungdaw Township, in the western state of Rakhine.
News about the attack early Tuesday morning came from advocacy group Arakan Project, which reported the death of more than a dozen Muslims, including women and children.
However, the incident remains murky and the authorities have not officially confirmed any deaths or injuries. In fact, Presidential spokesman and Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut on Friday morning denied the reports of Rohingya killings, saying instead that "Police are investigating the case of the missing policeman".
Local witnesses confirm that tensions have been building in the region since last month, when monks from a Buddhist extremist movement known as 969 toured the area and gave sermons by loudspeaker advocating the expulsion of all Rohingya.
Although they are a small minority in the country, the latter represent 90 per cent of the population in northern Rakhine.
According to early reports by the advocacy group, police went to the village Monday evening to seize mobile phones and check family lists, but the crowd turned on the officers, beating and chasing them off.
The next morning, police returned to the area with soldiers and some Buddhist Arakanese civilians, looking for a police agent reported missing the previous evening, a story the Rohingya strongly deny.
Sources told Arakan Project that Buddhists and the security forces attacked the women and children in the village - the men had fled during the night fearing retaliation - killing at least 18 of them. Some women were also raped.
The fact that some of the victims appeared to have been stabbed with knives, not shot or beaten, "would clearly indicate the massacre was committed by (Buddhist) Rakhine villagers, rather than the police or army," the Arakan Project reported.
In the aftermath of the violence, police arrested more than 50 Rohingya.
Shwe Maung, a Muslim Lower House lawmaker for the ruling USDP, said that tensions are running high, and that reports about the incident contain conflicting information.
"A lot of people are missing. Normally when they are missing family members, Rohingya people think they are dead," he added. "Now the situation is very tense" with hundreds of security forces patrolling the area.
Since June 2012, the western state of Rakhine has been the scene of violent clashes between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims (about 800,000 in Myanmar) that left at least 200 people dead and 250,000 people displaced.
For US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Myanmar government is engaged in de facto "ethnic cleansing" in the area.
For Burmese authorities, the Muslim minority is made up of illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.