- From: AFP
- June 09, 2012
FOUR people were killed yesterday in religious clashes in western Burma, where tension continues to climb.
Police opened fire and the authorities declared a curfew to tackle the escalating unrest, officials said.
The latest victims are believed to have been killed by angry Muslims who torched Buddhist villages in Rakhine state along the Bay of Bengal.
"They were attacked with knives. A 65-year-old man was killed on the spot. The other three died in hospital as they were seriously injured. Those who were killed are Buddhists," a government official who did not want to be named said.
State television announced late yesterday a night-time curfew in the unrest-hit areas, home to large numbers of Rohingya, a Muslim group described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
Tensions have flared in Rakhine since 10 Muslims on a bus were killed by an angry Buddhist mob on Sunday who believed mistakenly that the perpetrators of the recent rape and murder of a Rakhine woman were onboard.
Earlier yesterday a different official said police in Rakhine had opened fire in an attempt to quell religious tensions in a town dominated by the stateless Rohingya.
"Police opened fire in Maungdaw in Rakhine state. There are no casualties," the official said.
Religious clashes occur periodically in Burma, and Rakhine state - which has a large Muslim minority population - is a flashpoint for tensions.
Buddhists make up about 89 per cent of the population of Burma, with Muslims officially representing four per cent.
The violence threatens to overshadow reconciliation efforts since a series of dramatic political reforms following the end of almost half a century of military rule last year.
One of the officials said police were deployed in Maungdaw yesterday after about 300 people returning from mosques threw stones at a government office, police station and local businesses.
Police were also deployed in more than a dozen Buddhist Rakhine villages as houses were set on fire.
The authorities this week warned against "anarchic acts" after the mob killings and an attack on a police station by an angry crowd in Sittwe.
In Burma's main city Yangon, dozens of Muslims protested on Tuesday calling for justice over the recent killings.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, which also has a large Rohingya population, officials said the Border Guard on Wednesday arrested one Rohingya man on charges of carrying illegal arms as he tried to cross into Burma.
Local police chief Supon Mojumder said that Sirajul Islam, aged around 30, was found in possession of a locally made gun and seven rounds of bullets.
"The dismantled gun was found in a bag in his possession," he said, adding that Islam lived in an unregistered refugee camp.
In a rare public response to civil unrest, the Burma government said on Thursday it had established a committee to investigate the sectarian strife and expected to hear its findings by the end of June.
With fears of further violence growing, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday urged the nation's Buddhist population to show "sympathy" with minorities following the Rakhine killings.