Sectarian violence rages in Myanmar's northwest
YANGON (Reuters) - Homes burned and gunshots rang out as sectarian violence raged for a fifth day on Tuesday between Muslims and Buddhists, threatening the country's nascent democracy.
Security forces struggled to stem the worst communal violence since a reformist government replaced an oppressive junta last year and vowed to forge unity in one of Asia's most ethnically diverse countries.
President Thein Sein faces mounting international pressure to end the bloodshed in coastal Rakhine state and quell growing nationalist anger in the predominantly Buddhist country against stateless Muslim Rohingyas before the violence spreads further.
The unrest undermines the carefully crafted image of ethnic unity and stability that persuaded the United States and Europe to suspend economic sanctions in the former Burma, while increasing curfews could threaten tourism and foreign investment - rewards for emerging from nearly half a century of army rule.
Fires engulfed homes and gunshots rang through the streets of Sittwe, a port town riven by tensions between Buddhists and Rohingyas, who have long demanded recognition as an indigenous ethnic group but are denied citizenship.
"Sittwe is like a war zone," said Shwe Maung, a Muslim lawmaker in the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party for the Rakhine town of Buthidaung. He urged the army to intervene and accused police of allowing Buddhists to break the curfew and burn Muslim houses.
"The police are not properly controlling the situation."
Aung Myat Kyaw, a member of the Rakhine state parliament, said at least one Buddhist was killed in rioting in Sittwe on Tuesday. "Violence between each group is still continuing and is getting worse," he said.
Hundreds of Rohingyas have fled in rickety boats for the shores of neighboring Bangladesh but are being turned back to sea by authorities there, say Bangladesh border officials. Many of the boats, packed with women and children, are left drifting. Continued...