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Security fears hamper urgent relief aid in Rakhine

Six dead and four injured in Buddhist mob attacks this week

John Zaw, Mandalay

October 4, 2013

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Muslims displaced by renewed violence in Rakhine state this week have begun to return to their villages but face critical shortages of food, clothing and adequate shelter, according to a National League for Democracy (NLD) official.

Win Naing, chairman of the NLD in Thandwe, said more than 300 mostly Muslim villagers who fled when Buddhist mobs torched their homes in the coastal town and surrounding villages, have begun taking shelter among family and friends.

“Food, clothing and shelter are urgent needs. We have received some rice bags, medicine and clothes from local donors,” Win Naing said, adding that much more was needed to assist those who lost their homes and belongings in the violence.

Rioting broke out on Sunday morning, reportedly following an argument between a Buddhist taxi driver and Kyaw Zan Hla, chairman of the Kaman Muslim Party. Security forces disbanded rioters by firing shots into the air.

Hostilities broke out again on Tuesday, during which Buddhist mobs burned homes and six Muslims were killed, including a 94-year-old woman.

Security forces have restored calm but the situation remains tense, Win Naing said.

“Even [Thursday] night, one house burned, another was hit by stones and one was hit by a petrol bomb amid the tightened security and the curfew,” he said.

Zaw Lin, 35, from Pauktaw village who lost his home in the rioting, said he led nearly 200 villagers to a nearby forest when the mobs attacked, leaving all their belongings behind.

“We hid in the forest for one day and we faced difficulties due to the rain, so we returned to Linte village on Wednesday. We are still terrified,” Zaw Linn said.

Local officials have visited the area in recent days, promising to provide temporary shelters for those who lost their homes.

But Kyaw Swa Thwe, a resident of Linte, said today that at least 100 people have taken shelter in villagers’ homes and that no temporary camp has yet been established.

“Villagers are currently providing food for the displaced but in the long run, they can’t support them so food and non-food items are really needed for these people,” he said.

On Wednesday, Thein Sein made his first visit as president to Rakhine state. He met with local community leaders on Thursday, urging them to provide aid for those in need.

Some residents say that ongoing security fears may affect the ability to get aid to those who need it.

Win Zaw Oo, a resident of Thandwe, said he and five others had gathered medicine and clothing to distribute to the displaced, but local officials prevented them from delivering it, citing security fears.

Last year at least 250 people were killed and more than 140,000 displaced in several bouts of religious violence in Myanmar, mostly in Rakhine state.

In contrast to last year’s violence, which mainly targeted the Muslim Rohingya minority whom most Rakhine Buddhists consider to be illegal immigrants, the latest attacks have targeted Kaman Muslims, who are distinct from the Rohingya and have Myanmar citizenship.

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