Siittwe, Myanmar: Victims of Myanmar's latest explosion of Muslim-Buddhist violence on Sunday fled to already packed displacement camps along the country's western coast as a top UN official said that the unrest has forced more than 22,000 people out of their homes.
Boats carrying some of those fleeing arrived outside the state capital, Sittwe. They trudged to the nearby Thechaung camp, a place already home to thousands of Rohingya Muslims who took refuge there after a previous wave of violence in June.
"I fled my hometown Pauktaw on on Friday because there is no security at all," said 42-year-old fisherman Maung Myint, who arrived on a boat carrying 40 other people, including his wife and six children. "My house was burned to ashes and I have no money left."
Another Muslim refugee said she fled her village, Kyaukphyu, on Thursday after attackers set her home on fire.
"We don't feel safe," said 40-year old Zainabi, a fish-seller who left with her two sons, aged 12 and 14. "I wish the violence would stop so we can live peacefully.
Human Rights Watch released dramatic satellite imagery of Kyaukphyu on Saturday showing a vast swath of the village in ashes. The destruction included more than 800 buildings and floating barges.
Myanmar's government has put the death toll at 67 over the last week, saying 95 more people were injured and 2,818 houses were burned down from Sunday through Thursday in seven townships in Rakhine state.
The casualty figures have not been broken down by ethnic group, but Human Rights Watch said the Rohingya had suffered the brunt of the violence. The New York-based rights group also said the true death toll may be higher, based on witness accounts and the government's history of minimising news that might reflect badly on it.
Ashok Nigam, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, said the figure of 22,587 displaced included both Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, but he gave no breakdown.
The latest unrest pushes the total displaced to nearly 100,000 since clashes broke out in June.
Speaking to The Associated Press while visiting Thechaung camp, Nigam said getting aid to the new wave of displaced will be a challenge as some fled on boat and others have sought refuge on isolated hilltops.
"The situation is certainly very grave and we are working with the government to provide urgent aid to these people," he said.
Ill will between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine state goes back decades and has its roots in a dispute over the Muslim Rohingya's origins. Although many Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, they are seen as foreign intruders who came from Bangladesh to steal scarce land.
Today, the Rohingya also face official discrimination, a policy encouraged by Myanmar's previous military regimes to enlist popular support among other groups. A 1984 law formally excluded them as one of the country's 135 ethnicities, meaning most are denied basic civil rights and deprived of citizenship.
Neighbouring Bangladesh, which also does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, says thousands of Rohingya refugees have also sought to flee there by boat. Its policy, however, is to refuse them entry.
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Updated Date: Oct 28, 2012 13:35:52 IST