Tens of thousands flee Myanmar unrest | News | DW | 14.06.2012
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Tens of thousands flee Myanmar unrest

A senior Myanmar official has said that attacks between ethnic Buddhists and Muslims have displaced over 30,000 people in the west of the country. Some worry the unrest will stunt Myanmar's progress toward democracy.

Htein Lin, security and border affairs minister for Rakhine state, said on Thursday that 29 people had been killed and over 31,000 displaced over the past week resulting from the recent civil unrest in the western Myanmar state.

Officials worry about the impact of the refugee camp conditions on the humanitarian situation in the country also known as Burma.

"[The refugees] are in need of food and, because of the heavy rain, there are concerns about the refugees' health and whether they have enough shelter," Aung Myat Kyaw, a Rakhine senator, told Reuters.

Bangladesh said on Thursday it would not reopen its borders to the hundreds of refugees seeking safe haven, despite pressure from the United States and the UN.

"It is not in our interest that new refugees come from Myanmar," Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni had said earlier this week. "The entry of refugees from Myanmar has impacted on Bangladesh's social, environmental and law-and-order situation."

Over 300,000 Rohingya refugees already live in bordering Bangladesh as a result of years of discrimination in Myanmar.

'Discrimination fuels the violence,' critics say

Critics have emphasized the need to address Myanmar's treatment of its minority Rohingya ethnic group. The government does not grant the group the same rights as full citizens.

Rakhine has a majority Buddhist population with a large Muslim population, including nearly 800,000 of Rohingya, who are a minority in the Muslim community.

A soldier patrols through a neighborhood that was burnt during recent violence in Sittwe June 14, 2012

Thousands of homes have been burned down in revenge attacks

"The underlying tensions that stem from discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities pose a threat to Myanmar's democratic transition and stability," said UN's special rapporteur on human rights, Tomas Ojea Quintana, in Geneva on Wednesday.

State of emergency

The series of attacks between Buddhist and the Rohingya Muslim ethnic group began in late May when a Buddhist woman was raped and killed in the western state Rakhine. In early June, several Buddhist men attacked a bus carrying Muslims they believed were associated with the murder and killed 10 passengers.

President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency on Sunday in a televised speech. He said he worried the civil unrest would threaten the rest of the country and stunt its growth as a democracy.

"If [the violence spreads beyond Rakhine], the general public should be aware that the country's stability and peace, democratization process and development, which are only in transition right now, could be severely affected and much would be lost," he said.

The recent outbreak in violence marks the first turbulent clash to challenge the new government since the end of the military junta in 2010.

kms/ncy (AFP, Reuters)