A tense calm settled over Burma's western Rakhine state Monday, as riot police intervened to curtail a week of deadly violence between Muslims and Buddhists, and the United Nations began evacuating workers from the region.
Ethnic Rohingya Muslims, speaking to VOA's Burmese service, described scenes of devastation and fear in the border town of Maungdaw.
“Right now (Monday), it is unsafe to go outside because yesterday a 12-year-old girl who went for routine shopping was shot to death by police. That's why we fear to go outside.”
To the south, in the nearby city of Sittwe, Buddhists voiced fears that security forces deployed locally were not sufficient to control more than 3,000 Muslim refugees who have flooded the city to escape the rioting. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and at least 17 people killed in the region since violence erupted June 4 in Sittwe, a city of 180,000 residents.
“The situation could (grow) worse because the numbers of security personnel are pretty small. There's no security personnel in important areas. They (Muslims) came in a large group and locals (were forced) to escape. Sittwe now has an estimated 3,500 refugees.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement Monday that she is deeply concerned about the situation. She called for a transparent investigation into the violence and said the situation underscores the need for “serious efforts to achieve national reconciliation in Burma.”
U.N. Regional Development Chief Ashok Nigam called the U.N. evacuations temporary and said 44 workers and their families had so far left Maungdaw for Rangoon. He also said the U.N. facility has not come under attack.
“There have been no attacks on the U.N. compound; we have received security from the government. We will assess the situation and hope we can go back very soon.”
The unrest exploded into violence June 4, when a Buddhist mob in Sittwe waylaid a bus and killed 10 Rohingya passengers, mistakenly believing they were responsible for the recent gang-rape and murder of a Buddhist woman.
Burmese President Thein Sein declared a regional state of emergency Sunday night, warning the nation in a televised address that further violence could put the country's moves toward democracy in danger.
He said the unrest was fueled by “hatred and revenge based on religion and nationality,” and said it could spread to other parts of the country. If that happens, he warned that the country's stability, peace, and democratization process could be severely affected.
Burma does not classify its estimated 800,000 Rohingyas as Burmese citizens.