Burma: Two Sentenced to Death for Rape-Murder That Sparked Clashes

Posted June 19th, 2012 at 3:35 am (UTC-5)
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Burmese state media say two men have been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a woman in a case that helped trigger deadly clashes between Buddhists and Muslims.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar said Tuesday the verdict was delivered by a court in western Rakhine state, where officials say over 50 people have died in several weeks of violence.

Authorities detained three ethnic Rohingya Muslims following the killing of the Buddhist woman on May 28, but state media said one of the defendants hanged himself in prison earlier this month.

The violence intensified on June 3 when a mob of Buddhists in Rakhine ambushed a bus and killed 10 Rohingya passengers, in apparent revenge for the attack. The fighting quickly spread, with retaliatory arson attacks that burned down more than 2,500 homes and displaced tens of thousands of people in Rakhine.

The violence appears to have eased since late last week, after Burma's military declared the state to be under emergency rule and U.N. officials arrived to meet local leaders and assess the situation.

Many fear that the continued military rule of even a portion of the country jeopardizes the recent political reforms in Burma, which is emerging from decades of harsh army leadership.

The unrest has also highlighted longstanding tensions between Buddhists and the technically stateless Rohingya Muslims, who the Burmese government regards as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.