Asia

Burma's Rakhine clashes death toll rises to seven

In this Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 photo, two injured Rakhine men sit in a car as they prepare to go to hospital in Thandwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar.
Image caption The government is accused of doing too little to stop the violence

Police have found two more bodies in the western Burmese state of Rakhine, bringing the death toll to seven after recent deadly religious clashes.

The bodies are those of two local Buddhist men.

Police said last week that four men and a 94-year-old woman - all Muslims - had been killed by Buddhist mobs during the violence at the start of October.

The violence comes as Burma took over leadership of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean).

The two men were among a group of six people - a Christian pastor and five Buddhists - who were in the Thabyuchai area on 1 October, police say.

They were passing the village in a taxi, unaware of the violence that was going on, when they were attacked by villagers with knives and sticks.

Four of them managed to escape. But two disappeared. Their bodies were found by police and locals in the Linthi village cemetery.

Tensions between Buddhists and Muslims have risen in recent years in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar.

Violence which broke out in Rakhine in June 2012 left nearly 200 people dead and thousands displaced.

The unrest has since spread to other parts of the country.

The latest clashes appear to have started on 1 October after a Buddhist taxi driver near Thandwe complained he had been verbally abused by a Muslim.

This triggered attacks on property, and then physical assaults. Dozens of homes have been burned down. Witnesses said police did little to control the violence.

More than 700 Buddhist rioters, some armed with swords, attacked the village, setting buildings alight, the Associated Press reported. Families fled for their lives.

The violence comes as Burma is poised to take over leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the first time.

Critics say the move may be premature given conflicts at home that have left hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands more displaced.

The clashes took place as Burmese President Thein Sein was making his first visit to Rakhine since last year's violence. He met religious leaders from both communities.

He is credited with overseeing major reforms which have opened up Burma since the military handed power to a nominally civilian government two years ago.

But critics say the government has not done enough to stop the communal violence, which has seen hundreds of thousands of minority Muslims flee their homes.

Muslim and Buddhist communities remain largely segregated in the wake of last year's violence in Rakhine, with many Rohingya Muslims living in tents or temporary camps.

Rohingyas, whom the United Nations describes as a persecuted religious and linguistic minority from western Burma, are not recognised as Burmese citizens.

Those who were killed in last week's violence are ethnic Kaman Muslims, who are an officially recognised minority.