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Death Toll in Burma Clashes Doubles

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The death toll from sectarian clashes in Burma's coastal Rakhine state has doubled to 112 with over 70 reported injured, including children. The official figures surpass the bloodshed in fighting this summer and were released after President Thein Sein vowed to restore peace between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. But, authorities are struggling to restore order.

The sectarian fighting that erupted this week between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya is the worst this year in Burma's western Rakhine state.

The violence broke out Sunday and quickly spread to several districts including Kyaukphyu where a Burma-China pipeline begins. More than 2,000 homes were burned to the ground by rioters.

Hundreds of Rohingya took to boats to escape the violence, the worst since June clashes left 90 dead and tens of thousands homeless.

Win Myaing is the secretary of Rakhine state's information department.

He says that since Sunday in six townships the death toll is 51 men and 61 women. He says an additional 68 men and four women were injured, including ten children. The casualties, he says, were from both sides.

Information from the remote region has been slow to emerge while rumors circulated that perhaps hundreds were killed.

Burma's President Thein Sein released a statement carried Friday in the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

Thein Sein said the recurring riots have put Burma's national integrity at stake as it moves toward democratic reform. He also vowed to take effective measures for rule of law and community peace.

But, Thein Sein also blamed unnamed persons and organizations for conducting "manipulation behind the scenes." The statement did not elaborate but vowed to expose the wrongdoers and take legal action.

Matthew Smith is a research for Human Rights Watch.

"I'd say the violence that began again on Sunday has been spreading and the authorities have failed to provide adequate security as far as we can tell, particularly to the Rohingya population," said Smith. "And this is a serious concern."

Burma's majority Buddhist population has little sympathy for the Rohingya, who are referred to by most as Bengali immigrants.

The Rohingya are a nomadic people, numbering close to a million, but some have lived in Burma for generations.

A 1982 citizenship law did not recognize them as one of Burma's 135 minorities, effectively stripping them of any legal status and leaving them open to exploitation.

Smith says authorities have for years violated human rights of both communities in Rakhine state, also known as Arakan.

"This has not helped the situation at all," said Smith. "And, on top of that, since June we've seen dreadful humanitarian conditions in camps for the displaced in Arakan state. This has not helped the situation. And, there's been very little meaningful peace and reconciliation work. So, a lot remains to be done in order to get to the heart of this situation."

The United Nations says Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

A recent wave of Buddhist monk and student-led demonstrations have called for the Rohingya to be deported.

A U.N. human rights envoy on Thursday called for Burma to review the citizenship act to address the underlying causes of tension and prejudice. The U.N. Secretary General said authorities should restore order and put a stop to vigilante attacks and extremist rhetoric.

Article by Daniel Schearf, VOA News