The United Nations has begun evacuating non-essential international staff from western Myanmar. The sectarian violence that has hit Rakhine state is seen as a major test for Myanmar's civilian government.
The United Nations began evacuating its staff from its headquarters in western Myanmar, which has been the scene of deadly clashes between Muslims and Buddhists over the past few days.
"It is most of the international staff but local staff based in Maungdaw will still be there," Ashok Nigam, the UN's resident coordinator in Yangon told the AFP news agency, referring to the town in Rakhine state where the headquarters is located. He described the evacuation of humanitarian staff as "temporary." The staff members in question were to be relocated to Yangon.
Soldiers were out in force in parts of the provincial capital, Sittwe, and other towns on Monday, in an effort to maintain an uneasy calm. Some of them collected bodies from houses that were burned down over the weekend. At least 500 homes were torched and seven people killed. Muslims from the ethnic Rohingya minority have been blamed.
State of emergency
President Thein Sein responded to the outbreak of violence on Sunday by declaring a state of emergency in Rakhine.
"The situation could deteriorate and could extend beyond Rakhine state if we are killing each other with such sectarianism, endless hatred, the desire for vengeance and anarchy," Thein Sein said in a nationally televised address.
The worst bloodshed that Myanmar has seen in years appears to have been triggered by the alleged rape and killing of a Buddhist girl by three Muslims last month. A group of Buddhists responded by pulling 10 Muslims off a bus in Traungup township and killing them.
Around 100 Rohingyas held a rally outside of the UN's regional headquarters in Thailand on Monday to demand that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon step in to prevent what they described as a "genocide."
Test for reform-minded government
"If there is no intervention in the next few days, all the Muslims in Arakan [Rakhine] will disappear from this world," their petition said.
Myanmar's government regards the estimated 800,000 Rohingya Muslims who live in Rakhine as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Each year, thousands attempt to flee Myanmar for bordering Bangladesh, Malaysia or beyond.
The unrest is seen as a major test for President Thein Sein and his reform-minded military-backed civilian government, which came to power in 2010.
pfd/ncy (AP, AFP, dpa)