Over 1,000 Homes Burned During Clashes in Burma

Burmese state media say over a thousand houses have been burned down during communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims that erupted this week in western Rakhine state.

The New Light of Myanmar says the riots continued through Tuesday in the remote townships of Minbyar and Mrauk-U, north of the capital Sittwe. It said two people have died and eight were injured.

Rakhine state Chief Justice U Hla Thein says that three people have died.

It is the region's worst unrest since June, when widespread clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left dozens dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Matthew Smith, a Burma researcher for Human Rights Watch, says the latest violence mainly involves mobs of Rakhine Buddhists setting fire to Muslim Rohingya homes, though there have been reports of violence on both sides.

The violence has taken on an international component after the Burmese government, under pressure from majority Buddhists, reversed itself last week and rejected a request by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to open offices in Burma.

On Sunday, Burmese President Thein Sein conceded that his impoverished country may have no choice but to accept foreign aid for the Rohingya from neighboring Muslim-majority countries.

Smith says President Thein Sein has made a small degree of progress on the issue since suggesting earlier this year that all Rohingya should be expelled from the country.

"Most recently he has conceded that it would be unacceptable not to provide basic humanitarian aid to the Rohingya population. This is of course good to hear, but it's not enough," he said. "Of course the government can't deliberately starve out the Rohingya population."

Smith says there does not seem to be much political will to address the wider issues of providing Rohingya with citizenship rights or protecting them from further violence and discrimination.

"A lot of international pressure still needs to be put on the authorities to allow not only aid to come in from the Muslim world, but aid from the groups already operating in Arakan state," he added. "There needs to be full and unfettered humanitarian access. And it should not even be a question to allow the IOC to come in and provide aid to the affected populations."

But Vijay Sappani, a Toronto-based democracy activist and Burma analyst, says the issue is complicated for President Thein Sein, who must consider the widespread animosity in Burma against the Rohingya.

"We need to understand the challenging situation the president is in. He needs to balance between the reforms we all want to see, and at the same time he needs to balance the wishes of the ... Burmese people there, the Buddhists," he said. "So he is really really walking on egg shells right now."

The June violence erupted following the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men.  The unrest prompted fears of a humanitarian crisis among the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and many other basic rights in Burma.

The unrest, which led to a state of emergency in Rakhine, has threatened to undermine the reforms enacted by Burma's new nominally civilian government.

Some rights groups say the Burmese military, which has a long history of abusing minorities, unfairly targeted Muslims during the unrest. Burma's government denies the charges.

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