THANDWE, Myanmar–Terrified women and children hid in forests and police patrolled tense villages in western Myanmar on Wednesday, residents said, following sectarian clashes which left five Muslims dead and prompted international alarm. A day after riots shook the area, President Thein Sein arrived in the town of Thandwe as part of his first visit to Rakhine state since a wave of religious violence erupted there last year.
Around 800 Buddhist rioters swept through one village on Tuesday burning homes and attacking Muslims, according to authorities.
“We are living in fear. Many people, including women and children, are hiding in the forest nearby,” local Muslim official Myint Aung told AFP. “We are disappointed that we have a government that is unable to provide security for us,” he said, adding that the police had fired warning shots but could not control the mob. Five Muslims were killed, a local police official said, including a 94-year-old woman who was stabbed to death. Four Buddhists were injured in the fighting and a fifth was missing, while 59 houses and a mosque have been torched since tensions flared on Saturday, police said. A large security presence was seen in the area on Wednesday. Locals picked through the charred rubble of a burnt-out mosque in one village, according to AFP reporters. The international community has expressed growing disquiet at the fresh unrest in the strife-racked region, where tens of thousands of people remain displaced from earlier clashes that have left Buddhists and Muslims increasingly alienated from one another.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about the latest unrest and urged authorities to respond “decisively,” in a statement issued by its embassy in Yangon. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for “urgent action by the government to protect the vulnerable population” in a meeting with Myanmar’s foreign minister on Tuesday, the U.N. said. Around 250 people have been killed and more than 140,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence around the country since June 2012, mostly in Rakhine.