The death toll has climbed to 21 in Myanmar, where police are trying to control violence and homes are burning. Ethnic Rakhine Buddhists are pitted against stateless Rohingya Muslims in the coastal area of Rakhine in the worst sectarian unrest in Myanmar in quite some time. Thein Sein, president, declared an emergency in Rakhine state and warned that the violence could threaten democratic reforms that are changing the country after it was ruled militarily for half of a century.
From Friday to Monday, 21 people have been killed, 21 have been wounded and 1,662 homes have been burned. The violence broke out in Maungdaw on Friday as a mob of 1,000 Muslims began a rampage that had to be halted by armed troops. The state capital of Sittwe saw the violence too. Police had to fire live rounds into the air on Tuesday in Sittwe to get rid of Rohingyas who were caught burning homes in a neighborhood.
“Smoke is billowing from many directions, and we are scared,” said Ma Thein, an ethnic Rakhine resident in Sittwe. “The government should send in more security forces to protect both communities.”
Sittwe has seen multiple trucks of troops deployed in the capital, which have helped keep the majority of the city calm, including its main road. Banks, schools and markets are closed, which has caused many people to be without food and water, according to Ma Thein. Close to 1,500 Rohingyas have been turned away by Bangladesh, Myanmar’s neighbor. “We are keeping our eyes open so that nobody can enter Bangladesh illegally,” police official Jahangir Alam said.
The violence in Myanmar reportedly stems from the rape and murder of a Buddhist girl in May and the June 3 lynching of 10 Muslims as retaliation. The rape was reportedly performed by three Muslims. The Rohingyas are viewed by the government of Myanmar as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and have been declared stateless because they do not have citizenship.
“Given the Burmese army’s brutal record of abuses … putting the military in charge of law enforcement could make matters worse,” said Elaine Pearson. Pearson is the Deputy Asia Director of the Human Rights Watch.
Some 4,100 people who lost their homes to the fires have taken refuge in Buddhist monasteries, schools and a police headquarter in the towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung. Thousands of citizens from Sittwe were displaced by the violence as well. In the 664-seat parliament, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party holds several dozen seats.