* Rohingya Mulslims flee clashes with Buddhists
* Human Rights Watch calls on govt to protect Muslims
* Week of violence kills 67 - government
PAUKTAW, Myanmar, Oct 27 Boatloads of Muslims
struggled to reach refugee camps and sought safety on islands
and in coastal villages on Saturday as Myanmar tried to put out
the fires of a week of sectarian unrest that has shaken its
fragile democratic transition.
Dozens of rickety wooden vessels packed with the stateless
Rohingya Muslims who fled clashes with Buddhists in western
Rakhine state had reached land by Saturday after two days at
sea, but nine boats were still unaccounted for, according to
several Rohingya refugee sources reached by telephone.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Myanmar's
reformist government to protect Muslims from "vicious" attacks,
and released satellite images of the "near total destruction" of
a once-thriving coastal community reduced to ashes around
Kyaukpyu, an industrial zone important to Chinese energy
The United Nations has warned that Myanmar's fledgling
democracy could be "irreparably damaged" by a week of communal
violence which has come five months after machete and arson
attacks killed more than 80 people and displaced at least 75,000
in the same region.
No new clashes were reported on Saturday, a day after the
Home Minister said the government was prepared to declare
martial law and emergency rule in the region if violence
escalated. A committee of lawmakers led by Nobel laureate Aung
San Suu Kyi called on Friday for security reinforcements and
swift legal action against those behind fighting in which at
least 67 people were killed.
The chaos suggests the quasi-civilian government is
struggling to contain historic ethnic and religious tensions
between Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhines that were suppressed
during five decades of military rule that ended last year.
Few Rohingyas were able to reach overstretched refugee
camps, and some said boats were turned back by security forces
when they tried to join other Rohingyas, said by a government
official to be receiving food and water in the relative safety
of the state capital Sittwe.
Myanmar's estimated 800,000 Rohingyas are officially
stateless, and regarded by the government of the majority
Buddhist country as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, rather
than one of its 135 official ethnic groups, as a result of which
it denies them citizenship.
Bangladesh does not recognise them either, and the United
Nations has referred to them as "virtually friendless".
A Rakhine government spokesman put the death toll at 112 as
of Friday, but within hours, state media revised it to 67
killed, 95 wounded and nearly 3,000 houses destroyed from Oct.
21 to 25.
DEATH TOLL "UNDERESTIMATED"
That toll could be far higher, said Human Rights Watch,
citing "allegations from witnesses fleeing scenes of carnage and
the government's well-documented history of underestimating
figures that might lead to criticism of the state."
Buddhists searched on Saturday for bodies of ethnic Rakhines
killed in the clashes and some villages in Paukthaw, where both
Muslims and Buddhists had lived, were left abandoned.
Soldiers stood guard close to the burned-out homes that bore
the scars of the latest chaos in a region where tensions between
the groups have simmered for years.
"The bodies of 16 Rakhines were found in the sea. They had
died during the attacks on Thursday. We're looking for more
bodies," said Tun Mein Thein of the Wan Lark foundation, an
organisation assisting Buddhist refugees. The information could
not be independently verified.
Rohingyas refugee sources said many of those on boats had
resisted efforts by security forces to move them to A-Ngu-Maw
island, fearing retribution by Rakhine Buddhists.
Human Rights Watch said more than 811 buildings and
houseboats were razed in Kyaukpyu, about 120 km (75 miles) south
of Sittwe. Kyaukpyu is crucial to China's most strategic
investment in Myanmar: twin pipelines that will carry oil and
natural gas through the town on the Bay of Bengal to China's
energy-hungry western provinces.
A boat carrying 120 Muslims from Kyaukpyu was on Thursday
intercepted by Rakhines, who killed the men and raped the women,
the advocacy group Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK said in a
statement, describing the attacks as "ethnic cleansing". This
claim could not be verified.
"We have confirmed reports that hundreds of people have been
killed and the government must be aware of that," said Tun Khin,
the group's president.
Many of those expelled from Kyaukpyu are not Rohingya but
Muslims from the officially recognised Kaman minority, said
Chris Lewa, director of the Rohingya advocacy group, Arakan
Project. "It's not just anti-Rohingya violence anymore, it's
anti-Muslim," she said.
It was unclear what set off the latest arson and killing
that started on Sunday. In June, tension flared after the rape
and murder of a Buddhist woman that was blamed on Muslims, but
there was no obvious trigger this time.