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Myanmar's sectarian clashes claim more lives

From Kocha Olarn, CNN
October 26, 2012 -- Updated 1800 GMT (0200 HKT)
Sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims continued on Friday, October 26, 2012.
Sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims continued on Friday, October 26, 2012.
  • At least 64 people have been killed in five days of sectarian clashes, a state official says
  • Several were injured when security forces opened fire to disperse a crowd, he says
  • Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi calls for a boost in security in Myanmar's Rakhine state
  • Rakhine is home to the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority

(CNN) -- The death toll climbed again in Myanmar's volatile west on Friday as sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims that have seen thousands of homes set ablaze flared for a fifth day.

The continuing violence occurred despite authorities sending extra security forces to the state of Rakhine to clamp down on the unrest -- and casts a shadow over recent reforms in the Asian nation.

At least 64 people have died in clashes across six townships over five days, Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said Friday. Almost half those killed were women.

Several people were also injured Friday when security forces opened fire to disperse a crowd, the spokesman said. The injuries were unintentional, he added.

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Local resident Aung Min Khaing, 25, was one of 27 people treated Friday at the hospital in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state.

Khaing, from Minbya township, told CNN he was struck in the arm and back by bullets but wasn't sure who had opened fire -- the security forces or Rohingyas.

The situation across Rakhine state was not much worse than a day earlier, Myaing said, although some houses in Yanbye Township were set on fire.

Rakhine is home to the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority who say they have been persecuted by the Myanmar military during its decades of authoritarian rule. Myanmar does not recognize them as citizens.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called Friday in Parliament for a greater security force presence to bring the conflict under control.

She also urged a transparent investigation by the authorities of suspected human rights offenses.

No demonstrations were reported Friday in the capital, Yangon.

Unrest between the majority Buddhists and the Rohingya has tested efforts of President Thein Sein's administration to seek reconciliation with Myanmar's different ethnic groups and move the country toward more democratic governance.

The president's office warned Thursday that "manipulators" behind the violence can expect to be found and prosecuted.

No ban has been put in place on celebrations for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, the president's office said Friday. However, Yangon's regional government said it could only promise security for Eid celebrations in certain places.

Overnight curfews, in effect since a severe outbreak of communal violence during May and June, have been lengthened in several townships, said Myo Than, manager of Rakhine state government's information department.

The clashes between Buddhists and Rohingyas during the summer killed at least 88 people -- mostly Rohingya -- according to state-run media.

That violence erupted after police detained three Muslim men on accusations they raped and killed a Buddhist woman. Clashes spread, prompting the government to deploy the military to restore order.

Hundreds of Rohingyas tried to cross the border into neighboring Bangladesh but were turned back. Bangladesh said it already had too many Rohingya refugees, estimating that about 300,000 live in the country.

Even after the killing stopped, simmering tensions remained in Rakhine, as demonstrated by the resumption of violence this week.

Those who lost their homes have had to live in refugee camps. About 75,000 people were displaced, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar.

Myo Than said the government is aiming to return the situation to normal by organizing negotiations between the two sides and increasing security.

According to Human Rights Watch, Myanmar's laws discriminate against the Rohingya, infringing on their rights to freedom of movement, education and employment. They are denied land and property rights and ownership. The land on which they live can be taken away at any time.

Human Rights Watch has also accused security forces of opening fire on the Rohingya population during the recent wave of violence -- an accusation the government denied.

Journalist Phyu Phyu Zin in Yangon, Myanmar, contributed to this report.

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