By a Reuters Staff Reporter
SITTWE, Myanmar Oct 28 Muslim survivors of six
days of sectarian violence in western Myanmar spoke on Sunday of
fleeing bullets and burning homes to escape on fishing boats
after an attack by once-peaceable Rakhine neighbours.
The United Nations said 22,587 people had now been displaced
after unrest between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhines
claimed at least 84 lives i n Rakhine State and tested the
reformist mettle of the quasi-civilian government that replaced
Myanmar's oppressive ruling junta last year.
"We were told to stay in our homes but then they were set on
fire," said Ashra Banu, 33, a mother of four who fled the
coastal town of Kyaukpyu after its Muslim quarter was razed on
"When we ran out people were being shot at by Rakhines and
police," she said. "We couldn't put out the fires. We just tried
New York-based Human Rights Watch earlier released
before-and-after satellite images showing the near total
devastation of the Kyaukpyu's Muslim quarter.
Located about 120 km (75 miles) south of the Rakhine State
capital Sittwe, Kyaukpyu is crucial to China's most strategic
investment in Myanmar: twin pipelines that will carry oil and
natural gas from the Bay of Bengal to China's energy-hungry
No new clashes were reported on Sunday, but a Reuters
journalist at Te Chaung camp near Sittwe witnessed a constant
trickle of new arrivals, mainly from Kyaukpyu, where more than
811 buildings and houseboats were destroyed according to Human
Rights Watch's analysis of satellite imagery.
"The Rakhines came to attack us with knives. They set fire
to our homes, even though we have nothing there for them. I left
with only the clothes I am wearing," wept a 63-year-old woman
who said her name was Zomillah, as she sat on a crowded space in
Te Chaung camp. "I can't go back."
The government estimates nearly 3,000 homes have been
destroyed across in Rakhine State since Oct. 21. On Sunday,
state television said the number of dead had risen to 84 from
67, but rights groups say the casualties are likely far higher.
Abdul Awal, 30, said police stood by as Rakhines burned
their homes. "The Rakhines beat us, and the police shot at us.
We ran to the sea and they followed us, beating us and shooting
at us," he said. "I have to start a new life now."
A Buddhist Rakhine in Kyaukpyu tells a different story.
Contacted by telephone by Reuters, he said Rakhines and Muslims
had fought each other with knives, swords, sticks and
slingshots. Overwhelmed, the Muslims then "set fire to their own
houses as a last resort and ran away," he said. The resident
estimates 80 to 100 Muslim boats left Kyaukpyu that day.
"MANY PEOPLE KILLED"
Barefoot Muslim men and women alighted from engine-less
fishing boats and climbed the muddy embankment to Te Chaung camp
carrying children and what meagre possessions they had salvaged
from the inferno.
"I saw many people killed," said Noru Hussein, 54, another
ex-resident of Kyaukpyu. "We didn't fight back. How could we? We
live in a place surrounded by Rakhine villages. We just fled to
the beach and escaped by boat."
Te Chaung camp was created after a previous explosion of
sectarian violence in June killed more than 80 people and
displaced at least 75,000 in the same region. Already squalid
and overcrowded, the camp was ill-equipped to cope with more
Forty-seven boats carrying 1,945 Rohingya men, women and
children have landed at villages near Sittwe in the past few
days, said a local official, who requested anonymity.
Myanmar's Buddhist-majority government regards the estimated
800,000 Rohingyas in the country as illegal immigrants from
Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh has refused
to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992. The United Nations
calls them "virtually friendless".
People at Te Chaung said many more boats full of Rohingya
had left Kyaukpyu but had yet to reach land.
The camp lies on a remote coast at the end of a pot-holed
road from Sittwe. Its tents and two-story huts are linked by
muddy lanes and guarded by about a dozen unarmed officials.
The only obvious aid consists of sacks of rice from the
World Food Program. The empty sacks double as sleeping mats.
Many people bed down beneath trees.
Reuters saw no medical workers. Some of the camp's
inhabitants suffer from malaria. The children are naked and
Mohammed Jikeh, 34, a former fishseller, has lived here
since the June violence, which he said claimed the lives of 11
"We have no hope," he said. "We want this violence to stop.
We want to live in peace. But like this none of us can survive."
The United Nations said the violence hit eight townships or
districts, destroying 4,600 homes, and the number of people
displaced could rise. It said the displaced needed "urgent
"I am gravely concerned by the fear and mistrust that I saw
in the eyes of the displaced people," Ashok Nigam, the U.N.
resident and humanitarian coordinator said in a statement on his
return from a tour of Rakhine State's trouble spots.
"The violence, fear and mistrust is contrary to the
democratic transition and economic and social development that
Myanmar is committed to," he said in a statement.