Violence Reignites in Arakan State

By Khin Oo Tha 22 October 2012

Several people have died and hundreds of homes were destroyed on Monday morning as Buddhists and Muslims clashed in Arakan State’s Mrauk-Oo and Minbya townships in the latest outbreak of violence in the conflict-hit region.

Residents of Puyeinkone, a village in Mrauk Oo Township, said several people were killed and at least 10 others were injured in the communal strife, which broke out at around 10 am. Around 100 houses and a monastery were also reportedly destroyed in the violence.

A member of the Free Funeral Service (Mrauk-O) told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the group had rescued the body of Ko Aung Moe, 34, one of the victims of the clashes, but was still trying to recover those of four others believed to be dead in Puyein, a Muslim village located near Puyeinkone.

Police in Mrauk-Oo said they could not confirm the number of deaths or of houses destroyed by fire, as they are still collecting information.

Meanwhile, residents of Minbya said that around 200 houses had also been burned down in Thayetoak, a village of around 300 households. About 18 houses were also torched near the bus stop in Minbya at around 10 pm Sunday, they added.

The clash reportedly started after a local Arakanese man was attacked while passing through Thayetoak, most of whose inhabitants are Muslims. The blaze broke out soon after the attack, and the violence later spread to Mrauk-Oo.

Hla Thein, a spokesman for Arakan State Affairs, said the situation was under control.

“Two state ministers and the provincial police chief are in the area for inspection,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday, adding that a curfew would be imposed if necessary.

There were conflicting reports of how the fighting and the fires started.

The Muslim residents who lost their homes said that they were attacked first by ethnic Arakanese, but some Arakanese offered a different account of events.

Thar Kyaw, a Minbya resident, told The Irrawaddy that the “Bengali Muslims burned down their own homes so they could get support from international relief organizations. They started the conflict with the local Rakhine [Arakanese] in many ways.”

Muslims live in 14 of Arakan State’s 17 townships. More than 90 percent of the residents of  Maungdaw and Buthetaung, near the Bangladesh border, are Muslim, while the state capital Sittwe is roughly evenly divided between Buddhists and Muslims.