Myanmar Declares Emergency To Contain Buddhist-Muslim Riots

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Myanmar declared a state of emergency in a western border region to prevent clashes between Muslims and Buddhists from spreading or threatening the country’s democratic transition, the Associated Press reported.

President Thein Sein last night said in a televised address that uncontrolled violence may “severely affect” the country’s development and “nascent democratic reforms,” the AP reported. The unrest began after an alleged rape prompted a mob of Rakhine Buddhists to murder 10 Rohingya Muslims last week, his adviser Ko Ko Hlaing said on June 8.

As many as 30 people were killed and hundreds of buildings torched in rioting in Muslim-majority border towns, Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group reported, citing an eyewitness account by one of its reporters. Photos on its website showed thick smoke rising above village roads and security forces with guns standing close to groups of Rohingyas.

Thein Sein has struggled to maintain peace in border areas filled with ethnic minorities even as his moves to allow more political freedom prompted the U.S. and European Union to suspend trade and financial sanctions. Investors are watching for signs the shift to democracy is sustainable while scouting opportunities in the country of 64 million people.

Violence Spreading

The violence may spread to other cities, Thein Sein said, according to a statement posted late yesterday on a government website. He urged religious leaders and political parties to help ease tensions, according to the statement.

Fighting broke out yesterday in Sittwe, Rakhine’s capital, leaving five people injured, the Irrawaddy news website reported, citing an unidentified hospital official. The Indian Ocean port is the origin of oil and gas pipelines being built by China National Petroleum Corp. that stretch to Yunnan province.

Rohingyas, Sunni Muslims who are descended from Arab traders, aren’t among the 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by Myanmar’s government, which prevents them from obtaining citizenship and traveling freely throughout the country. Most live in three towns near the border with Bangladesh, where about 265,000 Rohingyas live in or around refugee camps, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

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