More than 80 people have been killed in a wave of communal violence in western Myanmar this month, a government official said Thursday, as local people said they still feared for their lives.
About 71 people have died in more than a week of clashes, the official said, in addition to 10 Muslims killed on June 3 by a Buddhist mob seeking revenge for the rape and murder of a local woman - the apparent spark for the unrest.
Both sides have accused each other of violent attacks.
Two men were on Monday sentenced to death for the rape-murder, although no death row prisoner in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is known to have been executed since 1988.
Rakhine state has been rocked by rioting, arson and a cycle of revenge attacks involving Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya, prompting growing international concern.
Myanmar officials and many Burmese, including the mostly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine, consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, and refer to them as “Bengalis”.
The dead bodies of eight more ethnic Rakhine were found in the village of Yathedaung, about 65 kilometres from the state capital Sittwe, the official said.
“These people were killed during clashes with Bengalis,” he told AFP by telephone from Sittwe.
Rohingya leaders say the real number of dead in their own communities could be much higher than the figures given by authorities.
About 800 000 Rohingya live in Myanmar, according to the United Nations, which describes them as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
They face discrimination including restrictions on their movements, and lack land rights, education and public services, the UN says.
Bangladesh, where an estimated 300 000 Rohingya live, has been turning back Rohingya boats arriving on its shores since the outbreak of the unrest.
Officials had said on Wednesday that the situation was under control in most parts of Rakhine, where emergency rule has been in place for more than a week.
But a resident in Sittwe said the mood was still tense and at least one house was set on fire overnight.
“We need more security,” he said by telephone. “People cannot sleep at night because they are afraid. Residents have asked for permission to guard their areas in groups at night but the authorities haven't responded yet.”
Myanmar's President Thein Sein has warned the violence could threaten the nation's democratic reforms as it emerges from decades of army rule.
The US embassy in Yangon on Wednesday praised the former general for responding “in a timely and public manner” to tackle the violence and help victims.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and many homes have been set on fire.
Soldiers and police have been patrolling unrest-hit areas and a curfew has been imposed in Sittwe and several other towns.
“The security forces are very tired. We are very concerned for both sides,” a security official told AFP.
The World Food Programme said Tuesday it had provided food to more than 65 000 people, estimating a further 25 000 were in need of help. - Sapa-AFP