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Burma's Rakhine clashes kill five as Thein Sein visits

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BBC Asia

At least five Muslims were killed by Buddhist mobs in the Burmese state of Rakhine on Tuesday, police say.

The bodies of four men were found near the town of Thandwe. Earlier a 94-year-old woman was confirmed killed.

Reports say terrified Muslims are hiding in fear of their lives. The renewed violence comes as President Thein Sein visits Rakhine.

Tensions between Buddhists and Muslims have risen in recent years in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar.

Violence which broke out in Rakhine in June 2012 left nearly 200 people dead and thousands displaced.

The unrest has since spread to other parts of the country.

The latest clashes appear to have started on Saturday after a Buddhist taxi driver near Thandwe complained he had been verbally abused by a Muslim.

This triggered attacks on property, and then physical assaults. Dozens of homes have been burned down. Witnesses said police did little to control the violence.

The 94-year-old woman was stabbed to death in Thapyuchai, about 20km (12 miles) north of Thandwe, police confirmed on Wednesday.

More than 700 Buddhist rioters, some armed with swords, attacked the village, setting buildings alight, the Associated Press reported. Families fled for their lives.

"Many of them, including women and children, are still hiding, and they are cornered and unable to come out," Muslim resident Myo Min told the news agency.

"They need food and water, and Muslim elders are discussing with authorities to evacuate them or send food."

AFP news agency reported that four Buddhists were injured in riots in a nearby village, while a fifth was missing. AP's report say two Buddhists are unaccounted for.

Thein Sein, who is making his first visit to Rakhine since last year's violence, arrived in Thandwe on Burma's coast on Wednesday. He is due to meet religious leaders from both communities.

He is credited with overseeing major reforms which have opened up Burma since the military handed power to a nominally civilian government two years ago.

But critics say the government has not done enough to stop the communal violence, which has seen hundreds of thousands of minority Muslims flee their homes.

"The president is the most responsible person in the country. Up until now, when Muslim people have been killed, their property destroyed, he's been silent," one man in Thandwe told AP.

Muslim and Buddhist communities remain largely segregated in the wake of last year's violence in Rakhine, with many Rohingya Muslims living in tents or temporary camps.

Rohingyas, whom the United Nations describes as a persecuted religious and linguistic minority from western Burma, are not recognised as Burmese citizens.

Those who were killed in Tuesday's violence are ethnic Kaman Muslims, who are an officially recognised minority.

Background: Burma unrest

What sparked the violence in June 2012?

The rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman in Rakhine in May, which set off a chain of deadly religious clashes.

Why was a state of emergency declared?

It allows the introduction of martial law, which means the military can take over administrative control of the region.

Who are the Rohingyas?

The United Nations describes them as a persecuted religious and linguistic minority from western Burma. The Burmese government, on the other hand, says they are relatively recent migrants from the Indian sub-continent. Neighbouring Bangladesh already hosts several hundred thousand refugees from Burma and says it cannot take any more.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24371623

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