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Thousands displaced in Myanmar religious unrest

The number killed has grown above 60 and thousands have been displaced as violence in Myanmar continues. The fighting has cast a shadow over the reformist government's attempts to remake Myanmar's international image.

Thousands have fled their homes following the latest clashes, with the casualties coming from both sides. An estimated 3,000 Rohingya Muslims, largely under attack by ethnically Burmese Buddhists, have been forced to escape in boats with the idea of docking near existing refugee camps on the outskirts of the state capital, Sittwe.

"We cannot allow them as we are worried of possible clashes with residents," said Win Myaing, spokesman for the state of Rakhine.

June also saw interethnic violence in Rakhine state, splitting communities, leaving 75,000 mainly Muslim Rohingya living in camps. Since June, the violence has killed up to 200. The United Nations responded to the bloodshed with a warning that the unrest threatens reforms in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

"The vigilante attacks, targeted threats and extremist rhetoric must be stopped," a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

Belated acknowledgment

President Thein Sein has received praise for overseeing reforms, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament. State media has acknowledged the damage that the ongoing violence has causing to the nation's image at this pivotal moment.

This violence prompted Myanmar's main Islamic organizations to cancel celebrations for the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday, which began on Friday. Myanmar's lower house voted to beef-up security, including around the tourist attraction Mrauk U and Kyaukpyu, where a pipeline to transport Myanmar gas to China begins.

Thousands of Rohingya remain trapped behind guards in a ghetto in Myanmar's capital. Tens of thousands more are housed in camps beyond the city limits as segregation between the two communities becomes more pronounced.

The government and many Burmese consider Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The UN has long ranked Rohingya, who speak a dialect similar to Bangladesh's, among the most persecuted minorities on the planet. Bangladesh on Thursday mobilized extra patrols along its river border with Myanmar amid reports of dozens of boats carrying Rohingya Muslim refugees, fleeing the clashes.

Bangladesh drew criticism after turning back Rohingya following June's violence. However, the country said it could not accept refugees as it already has 300,000 Rohingya.

mkg/jr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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