Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Burmese government on Monday to take all necessary steps to protect both Buddhist and Muslim communities under threat from the recent sectarian violence in Arakan State.
The New York-based group also pressed Naypyidaw to allow international journalists, aid workers and diplomats to observe the conflict area first-hand, joining calls from various international governments and interest groups.
“Deadly violence in Arakan State is spiraling out of control under the government’s watch,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at HRW. “Opening the area to independent international observers would put all sides on notice that they were being closely watched.”
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged a halt to the bloodshed during a speech on Monday and called on the Burmese government to hold reconciliation talks with representatives of the groups involved.
Deadly violence in Arakan State in northwestern Burma has left at least a dozen dead and hundreds of houses burnt since Friday, reports the Associated Press. Although the government’s official death toll currently stands at seven, many community groups indicate that the total number of victims is likely to be higher.
The clashes have continued regardless of the imposition of a 6 pm to 6 am curfew and the announcement of a state of emergency.
Clinton said that the current situation in Burma highlighted the urgent need for national reconciliation and that Washington urged President Thein Sein’s administration to investigate the matter in an “expeditious and transparent manner.”
Meanwhile, the European Union praised the way Burmese security forces have handled the violence as well as Thein’s Sein national address which warned against “never-ending hatred, desire for revenge and anarchic actions.”
“We believe that the security forces are handling this difficult inter-communal violence in an appropriate way,” Maja Kocijanic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. “We welcome the priority which the Myanmar Government is giving to dealing with all ethnic conflicts.”
Burmese youth activist group Generation Wave has also urged warring parties to work together with the government to bring peace to troubled Arakan State under the rule of law.
“We have worked together to fight against the military dictatorship and so now we urge all ethnic leaders to unite and fight against this violence,” read the statement released on Monday.
“The government must cooperate with ethnic and religious organizations for justice, rule of law and peace. People must also be careful about propaganda which incites violence.”
Meanwhile, 44 out of 150 United Nations aid workers and their families were withdrawn from strife-ridden Maungdaw Township by the Bangladeshi border on Monday. Local state television said cargo and passenger boats to the state capital Sittwe are also suspended.
Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma’s far west have been steadily growing since the alleged gang-rape and murder of an Arakanese woman by three Muslim men in late May, and the retaliatory killing of 10 Muslims on a bus last week.
Arakan State is home to around 3.8 million people of which roughly two-thirds are understood to be Buddhist Arakanese. But there are also around 800,000 Muslim Rohingya people who are considered illegal Bangladeshi immigrants by the government.
The UN calls the Rohingya “one of one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups” who face restrictions on movement, marriage and reproduction.
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The Irrawaddy Team