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More than 22,000 people have been displaced in western Myanmar

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 28th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

More than 22,000 people, mostly the Muslim minority in western Myanmar, have been routed and left homeless in the fresh hostilities ongoing in that nation. At least 170 people have been killed and whole neighborhoods have been wiped out, according to United Nations observers.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "The latest figures we have are 22,587 people have been displaced and we have about 4,665 houses that have been destroyed... according to government estimates provided to the U.N.," the U.N. chief in Yangon, Ashok Nigam told reporters.

Unrest between the Buddhist majority and the stateless Muslim Rohingya minority had been ongoing since June. Tens of thousands people were living in camps around Sittwe, the state capital of Rakhine state, already before the new violence. The total number of displaced is now estimated to be around 100,000.

Security forces have been deployed since the latest outbreak on October 21. More than 80 people have been killed in the last week, according to a government official, bringing the total toll since June to above 170.

A senior police official in Minbya says that more than 4,000 people, mainly Muslims, had been made homeless after hundreds of properties in six villages were set on fire.

"Some victims are staying at their relatives' houses, some are in temporary relief camps, they are staying near those burnt areas," he said. "They are staying between Muslims and Rakhine people," he said.

The U.N. has begun mobilizing to take food and shelter to displaced communities, "but we will quickly need more resources."

A human rights group over the weekend expressed concern for the safety of thousands of Rohingya. Satellite images of a once-thriving coastal community show a town that has burned down to the ground. Human Rights Watch say the pictures show "near total destruction" of a predominantly Rohingya part of Kyaukpyu, one of several areas in Rakhine where clashes have occurred.
 
In addition, more than 811 buildings and houseboats were razed in Kyaukpyu on October 24, forcing many Rohingya to flee north by sea towards Sittwe.

"Burma's government urgently needs to provide security for the Rohingya in Arakan [Rakhine] State, who are under vicious attack," Phil Robertson, the group's deputy Asia director says.

It's not yet known what set off the latest round of arson and killings. Ethnic violence in Rakhine in June left at least 90 people dead and destroyed more than 3,000 homes after the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman that was blamed on Muslims.

Myanmar's fledgling democracy could be "irreparably damaged" by the clashes, according to the U.N.

"The fabric of social order could be irreparably damaged and the reform and opening-up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardized," a spokesman for Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, declared.

"The widening mistrust between the communities is being exploited by militant and criminal elements to cause large-scale loss of human lives."

President Thein Sein's government has described the Rohingya problem as an obstacle to development on other fronts. Sein, who took office last year following elections boycotted by the opposition National League for Democracy, has since instituted economic and political liberalization after almost half a century of repressive military rule.

"As the international community is closely watching Myanmar's democratic transition, such unrest could tarnish the image of the country," a statement from Sein's office, published in a local newspaper last week read.

"The army, police and authorities in co-operation with local people will try to restore peace and stability and will take legal action against any individual or organization that is trying to instigate the unrest."

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