10/24/2012, 00.00
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Rakhine: a thousand homes torched as tensions between Burmese and Rohingya remain high

Officially, 600 homes were burnt; local sources report "1,039 houses in eight villages". Three people died: two Muslim women and a Burmese man. Fears persist that violence between the two groups could get worse. Thein Sein tries to appease the situation by promising jobs and education to restore "peace and harmony".

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Tensions remain in Rakhine State, the recent scene of renewed violence between Burma's Buddhist majority and the Rohingya Muslim minority. According to the latest official figures, more than 600 homes were torched during clashes; unofficial sources put the number at a thousand in at least eight villages. Three people are confirmed dead, including two Rohingya Muslim women and a local Burmese. Despite claims that everything was calm in the area, the authorities responded with a dusk-to-dawn curfew. In fact, the potential for further clashes remains high.

"A total of 660 houses were burnt down. We don't know yet how many houses were 'Bengali' and how many were Rakhine," officials said.  But state-run New Light of Myanmar reported that "1,039 houses in eight villages" were burnt down due to arson.

The crisis is also widening. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) wants to open an office in Rakhine State to provide aid to Rohingya, whilst Buddhist monks are in the streets calling for their expulsion from Burma.

In recent days, President Thein Sein tried mediation saying that the country has no choice but to welcome aid for the Rohingya, or else it will face an international backlash.

He added that education and more jobs were the long-term solution to the two communities living in peace and harmony.

In June, the District Court in Kyaukphyu (Rakhine) sentenced three Muslims to death for the rape and murder in late May of Thida Htwe, a young Buddhist Arakanese, which sparked sectarian clashes between Muslims and Buddhists. In the following days, an angry mob killed ten Muslims entirely unconnected with the incident.

So far, the spiral of hatred has caused the death of 29 more people, 16 Muslims and 13 Buddhists. According to official sources at least 2,600 homes were set on fire, whilst hundreds of Rohingya sought refuge abroad.

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