Myanmar in state of emergency after Muslim minority attacks Buddhist villages

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 10, 2012 19:26 EDT
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Buddhist monks pray as demonstrators gather via AFP
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LONDON — Britain on Sunday urged authorities in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state to open talks to ease sectarian violence, following deadly clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in the region.

British Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne said he was “deeply concerned” by the violence and called on all parties to act with restraint.

The minister insisted that authorities and community leaders open discussions “to end the violence and to protect all members of the local population.”

Britain and the rest of the international community will continue to monitor the situation very closely, stressed Browne.

President Thein Sein earlier ordered a period of emergency rule in response to riots that saw hundreds of Buddhist villagers’ homes set ablaze and left seven dead on Friday and Saturday, according to state television, adding that the unrest was “increasing”.

Violent attacks fueled by “hatred and revenge based on religion and nationality” in Rakhine could spread to other parts of the country, Thein Sein warned in an address to the nation.

Britain’s Foreign Office announced on Sunday it had updated its travel advice to warn “against all but essential travel to Rakhine State.”

“The safety of British nationals is our priority,” said Browne. “The embassy in Rangoon (Yangon) stands ready to provide consular assistance.”

President Thein Sein has overseen dramatic political reforms in Myanmar, which has begun to open to the outside world after decades of isolation.

The regime has also signed tentative ceasefire deals with a number of rebel groups in recent months as it seeks to draw a line under civil conflicts that have racked parts of the country since independence in 1948.

However, conflict continues to rage in the far north of the country.

Buddhists make up some 89 percent of the population of Myanmar, with Muslims officially representing four percent.

Last week Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged the nation’s Buddhist population to show “sympathy” with minorities following the outbreak of sectarian unrest in western Rakhine.

Photo AFP, Soe Than Win

Agence France-Presse
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