- Associated Press - Thursday, October 25, 2012

KYAUKTAW, Myanmar — At least 56 people have been killed and nearly 2,000 homes destroyed in the latest outbreak of ethnic violence in western Myanmar, a government official said Thursday.

The 25 men and 31 women were reported dead in four Rakhine state townships in violence between the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities that re-erupted Sunday, local government spokesman Win Myaing said.

He said some 1,900 homes had been burned down in fresh conflict, while 60 men and four women were injured.
In June, ethnic violence in the state left at least 90 people dead and destroyed more than 3,000 homes. Tens of thousands of people remain in refugee camps.

An Associated Press photographer who traveled to Kyauktaw, one of the affected townships 75 miles north of the Rakhine capital of Sittwe, said he saw 11 wounded people, most with gunshot wounds, brought by ambulance to a 25-bed hospital. One was declared dead after arrival.

All of the victims being treated were Rakhine, but that could reflect an inability or unwillingness of Rohingya victims to be treated there.

An account by a Rakhine villager in the area suggested great confusion and tension.

The villager said that when groups of Rakhine and the Rohingya had a confrontation, government soldiers shot into a crowd of Rakhine, even though, according to his claim, it had been dispersing. The villager would not give his name for fear of violent reprisals.

Concerns had been raised in the past that soldiers were failing to protect the Rohingya community, but the Rakhine villager’s account hinted that the military may have been defending the Rohingya in this case.

Curfews have been in place in some areas since June and have been extended to others because of the recent violence.

Tensions still simmer in part because the government has failed to find any long-term solution to the crisis other than segregating the two communities in some areas.

The United Nations called for calm Thursday in response to the violence.

“The U.N. is gravely concerned about reports of a resurgence of inter-communal conflict in several areas in Rakhine state, which has resulted in deaths and has forced thousands of people, including women and children, to flee their homes,” Ashok Nigam, U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, said in a statement.

Mr. Nigam said the U.N. was appealing for “immediate and unconditional access to all communities in accordance with humanitarian principles.”

The statement said large numbers of people fleeing the violence were headed for already overcrowded refugee camps housing about 75,000 people who had been made homeless.

“Short term humanitarian support and action towards long term solutions are urgently required to address the root causes of the conflict,” said the statement.

The unrest is some of the worst reported in the region since June, after clashes were set off by the reported rape and killing of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men in late May.

The crisis in Myanmar’s west goes back decades and is rooted in a dispute over where the region’s Muslim inhabitants originate.

Although many Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, they are widely denigrated as foreigners — intruders who came from neighboring Bangladesh to steal scarce land.

The United Nations estimates their number at 800,000. The government does not count them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, so — like neighboring Bangladesh — denies them citizenship.

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