A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on Thursday, saying the mistrust between the Muslim and Buddhist Burmese communities is being exploited by militant and criminal elements. He also called on the government to stop the extremist rhetoric and attacks.
Ban’s spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, said, “The widening mistrust between the communities is being exploited by militant and criminal elements to cause large-scale loss of human lives, material destruction, displaced families as well as fear, humiliation and hatred affecting the people from all walks of life.”
In a media statement, he called for a stop to vigilante attacks, targeted threats and extremist rhetoric, warning that if this is not done, “the fabric of social order could be irreparably damaged and the reform and opening up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardized.”
“Myanmar is striving to be an example of tolerance and moderation in Asia and the world. Such events must not be allowed to tarnish its efforts,” Nesirky said. “The United Nations is ready to do whatever is necessary to alleviate the situation and bring tranquility and harmony to the region.”
In early October, four months after inter-communal violence erupted in Rakhine state, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had said that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) there continues to rise, with some 75,000 people living in camps and many more in need of humanitarian assistance.
Curfews are imposed on four towns at the center of the violence – Mrauk Oo, Myebon, Minbya and Kyauk Phyu. But some witnesses say the army has so far been unable to bring any calm, with others claiming that soldiers were firing randomly into crowds to break up the fighting.
From Rangoon, United Nations coordinator Ashok Nigam issued a statement saying the UN is “gravely concerned,” adding that the fighting “has forced thousands of people, including women and children, to flee their homes.”
Burmese officials said almost 2,000 homes have now been destroyed by fire, along with eight religious buildings, since the latest clashes erupted this week.
A Voice of America (VOA) report on Thursday said survivors are telling chilling tales of the neighbor –on-neighbor violence, including one man who said his father was seriously injured during Monday's fighting in the town of Mrauk Oo.
“They [the Rohingya] were on the village road and we were on the outside one before a clash. He [his father]was leading our group and then withdrawing back when a Kalar [Rohingya] jumped out from a house through a window and stabbed him with a spear,” the man said.
Zaw Htay, a spokesman in the office of the president, told VOA’s Burmese service that the government is taking action.
“In dealing with this situation, first the state government has imposed curfew. Next, the president recently ordered to send more security forces over there,” Zaw Htay said.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Thursday called on all sides to exercise restraint.
“We join the international community and call on authorities within the country, including the government, civil and religious leaders, to take immediate action to halt the ongoing violence, to grant full humanitarian access to the affected areas and to begin a dialogue toward a peaceful resolution ensuring expeditious and transparent investigation into these and previous incidents,” Nuland said.
Nuland said the violence “underscores the critical need for mutual respect among all ethnic and religious groups.”
The violence is the worst to grip the region since June, when widespread clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left nearly 90 people dead and tens of thousands displaced. The unrest has prompted fears of a humanitarian crisis among the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and many other basic rights in Burma.
Aid groups in the area have been hard pressed to meet the needs of the displaced because of the remoteness of the region and poor infrastructure.
Observers said the ongoing violence could also threaten to undermine the reforms enacted by Burma's new government.
Some rights groups say the Burmese military, which has a long history of abusing minorities, unfairly targeted Muslims during the unrest. Burma's government has denied the charges.
Demonstrations in major cities across the country by Buddhist monks and others have reinforced anti-Rohingya sentiment among the general population, said observers.