- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 13, 2012

SITTWE, MYANMAR (AP) — Heavy rain brought an uneasy calm in western Myanmar on Wednesday after five days of sectarian strife, though residents were too fearful to sleep and faced food shortages.

The conflict pitting ethnic Rakhine Buddhists against stateless Rohingya Muslims in coastal Rakhine state has caused at least 21 deaths, and more than 1,600 homes have been torched in some of the worst sectarian unrest recorded in Myanmar in years.

An Associated Press journalist in the state capital, Sittwe, confirmed it was calm, with no signs of the scattered fires seen in recent days. Some of the fires had been extinguished only by the rain.

State television news Wednesday night reported no renewed violence, but focused on how the military was restoring order and providing relief.

In Sittwe, soldiers and police patrolled and warned people by loudspeaker to abide the state of emergency, which gives the military full authority over administrative and security functions in Rakhine.

Other measures include a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and a ban on public meetings of more than five people.

Fears of renewed violence halted bus and ferry deliveries of food and other cargo from Yangon to Sittwe, limiting supplies and sending prices skyrocketing. Shops, banks, schools and markets were closed.

President Thein Sein has warned that the spiraling violence could threaten the democratic reforms tentatively transforming the country after a half-century of military rule.

The U.N. special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, visited Sittwe on Wednesday, accompanied by government officials, and then flew to another city that has experienced violence, Maungdaw, in northern Rakhine state near Bangladesh.

Ferry cargo companies that deliver to the area will resume once security is restored, said a manager at the Shwe Pyi Thit ferry service. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of sensitivities surrounding the sectarian violence.

Road transportation in and out of the cities stopped a few days ago.

Sectarian tensions in the area are long-standing, but the violence that erupted Friday was triggered by the rape and killing last month of a Buddhist woman, reportedly by three Muslims, and the June 3 lynching of 10 Muslims in apparent retaliation.

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