The Arakan State capital Sittwe remains gripped by sectarian conflict despite a state of emergency being declared as insufficient security forces have been deployed to contain potential violence, according to local sources.
Khaing Pyi Soe, a spokesperson for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), told The Irrawaddy that many houses belonging to both Arakenese and Rohingya have been burned down all over the city.
More than 700 soldiers and police have been deployed yet dark smoke can be seen coming from numerous fires, he added. Locals are calling for even more security forces to be in place to protect the safety of residents.
“Security forces are only in major locations so Arakanese living in Sittwe’s suburbs want them to be in their areas as well in order to protect them from danger,” said Khaing Pyi Soe.
Information obtained from Sittwe General Hospital indicates that 21 Arakanese and six Rohingyas have died while many others have been injured since the president declared a state of emergency on Sunday night. There have also been seven reported deaths in Maungdaw, while official figures released in state media on Tuesday put the total death toll at 21.
Journalists currently covering the latest situation in Sittwe claim that security forces rushed to Kyaung Gyi, Narzi and Danyawaddy townships and some other urban areas on Tuesday as Rohingyas set fire to houses.
“I saw Rohingyas having their children, who are about 10 years old, set fire to houses. They burned Arakanese houses. They also burned their houses,” a reporter told The Irrawaddy. “There were about 2,000 people in their crowd. The Arakanese have moved to monasteries. I have taken video recordings of these incidents.”
A resident of Kyaung Gyi Township told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that people in his community were in trouble.
“We had to be on alert when they started burning their houses so the fire wouldn’t spread to ours,” said the Kyaung Gyi resident. “We are not safe. We have to keep eyes on them all the time as they may come and harm us anytime. Whenever something like this happens we, the Arakanese, have to run away.”
According to Khaing Pyi Soe, more than 8,500 Arakanese and other ethnic people who became homeless following the recent fires have been given aid by well-wishers and governmental agencies while sheltering in 34 rescue centers in Sittwe.
The Muslim-supported National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD), which has been monitoring the current situation in the mountainous state and collecting data, said that many Rohingyas are victims of the violence—some have been killed, others lost their houses and many have been forced to go into hiding.
Kyaw Khin, a member of the NDPD central committee, told The Irrawaddy that his party has found it difficult to estimate the exact number of homeless Rohingya and still cannot make a list of Muslim victims. The NDPD will continue to collect data, he said.
“Since violence has spread to urban areas in Sittwe, we have moved [Rohingya] women to a safer place,” said Kyaw Khin. “The worst thing is that they don’t have food. They need food but we can’t go out and buy it for them anymore. These people may die of hunger. They are all in the jungle now.”
He added that in some cases government security forces intervened on Monday and Tuesday by firing at Rohingyas.
The Bangladeshi government said on Tuesday that it sent back more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees who were trying to flee the ongoing violence. They were given food and sent back to Burma. Meanwhile, UN Special Advisor on Burma Vijay Nambiar arrived in Sittwe before noon on Wednesday to assess the situation.
A number of Sittwe residents reported to The Irrawaddy that a Muslim group opened fire at government troops, hitting a soldier in the thigh, and later took cover at a mosque in the city’s Aungmingalar quarter. They added that the wounded soldier is currently receiving treatment in Sittwe General Hospital and the Burmese troops did not return fire.
According to the NDPD, Rohingyas live in 14 out of 17 townships in Arakan State apart from Taunggup, Gwa and Ann. Over 90 percent of the population of Buthidaung and Maungdaw are Rohingyas, according to the group.
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The Irrawaddy Team