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Myanmar violence kills dozens, leaves thousands adrift

Thousands have sought shelter in overcrowded camps in Myanmar after violence left dozens dead. Human Rights Watch has urged the government to protect Rohingya Muslims and give aid to all people in the region.

Resentment between Buddhists and Muslims flared this week in unrest in Rakhine state that has seen neighborhoods razed and caused thousands of people to flee for safety from Rohingya minority areas. The fighting, which has prompted international warnings that the nation's reforms could be under threat, has killed at least 67 people.

No one knows exactly how many from each community have been killed, but a state official said that roughly half of the dead were women. Tens of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingya are already crammed into squalid camps around the state capital, Sittwe, after deadly violence in June. Rakhine state officials said that the latest violence had caused an influx about 6,000 people arriving into the city on boats.

"The local government is planning to relocate them to a suitable place," Rakhine government spokesman Hla Thein said. "We are having problems because more people are coming."

Afloat

Many displaced remain on boats, but several thousand have docked on an island opposite Sittwe. The United Nations announced that 3,200 people seeking refuge made their way towards shelters in Sittwe, with several thousand to come. Residents of one camp told the news agency AFP that they could see boatloads of Rohingya.

State media reported that almost 3,000 homes and 18 religious buildings had been torched in seven townships during the fighting, which began on October 21, spreading to areas that had been largely untouched by the earlier conflict. As many as 200 people have been killed in Rakhine since June. The state has imposed emergency rule in an attempt to control the violence.

Rights groups fear that the toll could far exceed official figures and have warned that hostilities in the region are continuing to stoke unrest.

'Destruction'

Human Rights Watch released satellite images of Kyaukpyu, where a gas pipeline to China begins, showing " destruction of homes and other property in a predominantly Rohingya Muslim area," with hundreds of buildings burned to the ground.

Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which campaigns for Rohingya rights, said the violence was "far deadlier" than June's unrest.

"Rakhine State has now spiraled into complete lawlessness," she told the news agency AFP on Saturday.

mkg/pfd (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)