RANGOON — The UN agency for children’s rights has called for an end to communal violence in west Burma, where clashes last week between Muslims and Buddhists left hundreds of people homeless.
Unicef issued a statement on Tuesday urging an end to violence in Arakan State, following the third major wave of communal violence to hit the state since last year. The clashes last week near the southern town of Thandwe left five people dead and destroyed some 110 homes.
In the two waves of unrest last year—elsewhere in Arakan State, in June and October—more than 140,000 people were displaced, and more than 105,000 were children affected by the violence, according to statistics from Unicef, which is providing aid locally.
“We are concerned the inter-communal violence is spreading in the whole country,” Bertrand Bainvel, a Unicef spokesman in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy. Anti-Muslim riots have also broken out in several locations across Burma this year.
Bainvel said the violence could affect the country’s ability to promote peace and stay united in the long term, amid a transition to democracy after decades of military rule. Of the unrest, he said, “first and foremost, if affects children.”
“It is difficult for them to understand what is going on. It is psychologically very difficult.”
Unicef, which has provided assistance in Arakan State for education, nutrition and health, as well as psychosocial support, says the unrest has made it nearly impossible for many affected children to continue their education or access health care. “Even if they manage to go to school, it is difficult for them to concentrate on learning because they will hear about the burning, shooting or adults speaking about violence,” the Unicef spokesman said. “Even if their houses weren’t burned, maybe their neighbors’ homes were.”
In temporary camps for displaced families near Sittwe, the state capital, about 85,000 children are 18 years old or younger. These include both Muslims and ethnic Arakanese Buddhists.
Unicef operates a temporary learning center for displaced children in camps in Sittwe as well as nearby Myaybon, Pauktaw and Kyauktaw townships, but only 7,500 children aged 11 to 14 have access to it. Unicef says another 1,000 children will soon be able to attend.
Farther north in Kachin State, where clashes continue between ethnic rebel armed groups and the government army, 8,000 children between the ages of 6 and 9 attend schools in rebel-controlled territory. Unicef does not have other data on the number of children affected by conflicts elsewhere in the country due to government restrictions on traveling to those areas.