Burma faces more unrest in Rakhine state

Burning structures at a village in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine
Image caption Violence began on Friday and spread to Rakhine's state capital of Sittwe

Gunshots have been heard and buildings set on fire in an area affected by deadly violence between Buddhists and Muslims in western Burma, reports say.

Most of the Muslim residents in the affected areas of Rakhine state are also being relocated, eyewitnesses say.

At least seven people have been killed since Friday, but one report puts the number of dead at 25.

President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency there late on Sunday night.

Violence flared after the murder of a Buddhist woman last month, followed by an attack on a bus carrying Muslims.

According to reports, it began on Friday in the town of Maungdaw, spreading to state capital Sittwe and neighbouring villages.

An unnamed official who spoke to news agency Agence-France Presse said at least 25 have died since, but did not provide further details.

"Smoke is billowing from many directions and we are scared," Ma Thein, a Rakhine resident in Sittwe, told news agency the Associated Press.

"The government should send in more security forces to protect both communities."

Security presence

Rakhine state is named after the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist majority, but also has a sizeable Muslim population, including the Rohingyas.

The Rohingyas are a Muslim group and are stateless, as Burma considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Neighbouring Bangladesh has increased its security presence on the border amid fears of an exodus.

The Border Guard Bangladesh force on Monday said it had turned away a number of boats carrying refugees. Reports of the number of people ranged from 50 to 300.

Activists have criticised Burma's government for imposing a state of emergency, which paves the way for troops to take control of the western state.

The pressure group Human Rights Watch has accused the Burmese government of, in effect, handing over control of Rakhine state to the military, which it says has a history of brutality against both Buddhists and Muslims.

Activists have asked that journalists, aid workers and diplomats be allowed into the area.

A nominally civilian government was elected in Burma in 2010 and, in April this year, opposition politicians led by Aung San Suu Kyi entered Burma's parliament following historic by-elections.

However, the government is still dominated by the military and concerns over political repression and human rights abuses continue.