Myanmar steps up security after sectarian clashes kill 50

An injured Buddhist man lies in a hospital in Sittwe, capital of Myanmar's western Rakhine state on October 23, 2012.

Story highlights

  • More than 1,000 houses have been set on fire in recent clashes
  • Attacks and counterattacks between Buddhists and Muslims began in May
  • After months of tense calm, they have flared up again this week
  • Authorities have extended overnight curfews in several townships

More than 1,000 homes have been set ablaze amid sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's volatile west as security forces struggle to bring some semblance of order to the countryside.

In an effort to clamp down on the unrest, authorities sent extra security forces to the state of Rakhine, where at least 50 people have been killed and dozens more wounded, state officials said Thursday.

Overnight curfews, in effect since a severe outbreak of communal violence during May and June, have been lengthened in several townships, said Myo Than, manager of the state government's information department.

Rakhine is home to the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority who say they have been persecuted by the Myanmar military during its decades of authoritarian rule. Myanmar does not recognize them as citizens.

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The clashes between the majority Buddhists and the Rohingya minority during the summer killed at least 88 people -- mostly Rohingya -- according to state-run media.

The violence in May erupted after police detained three Muslim men on accusations they raped and killed a Buddhist woman. Clashes spread, prompting the government to deploy the military to restore order.

Hundreds of Rohingyas tried to cross the border into neighboring Bangladesh, but were turned back.

Bangladesh said it already had too many Rohingya refugees, estimating that about 300,000 live in the country.

Even after the killing stopped, simmering tensions remained in Rakhine, as shown by the resumption of violence this week.

Those who lost their homes have had to live in refugee camps. About 75,000 people were displaced, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar.

Myo Than said the government is aiming to return the situation to normal by organizing negotiations between the two sides and increasing security.

State officials say they have sent medical teams accompanied by military personnel to two of the remote townships hit by unrest to offer treatment to Rohingya people too scared to go to a hospital.

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