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At least nine people were killed by ethnic Arakan residents in western Burma on Sunday, an official said, in an apparent sectarian attack in a region affected by simmering religious tensions.
“We heard nine people were killed by ethnic Arakan residents in Taunggote town this evening. We do not know the details yet,” a government official told AFP, adding that some of the victims were thought to be Muslims visiting Arakan state from central Burma.
Local residents, speaking to AFP by phone, said the recent rape and murder of an ethnic Arakanese girl had stirred sectarian suspicions in the area. AFP was unable to reach local police to confirm details of that case.
One man from the village where the attack took place said a mob of ethnic Arakanese — who are mostly Buddhist — set upon a bus that they believed was carrying those responsible for the murder-rape.
“More than a hundred people beat and killed those people. The residents even torched the bus,” he said, adding that the police arrived but were unable to control the baying crowd.
“There are not many people at the scene now, only dead bodies on the road. The senior town residents are trying to comfort the people,” the man added.
Another local man also told AFP that the crowd murdered the passengers in an attempt to capture the supposed killers of the girl.
Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims occur periodically in Burma and Arakan state, which borders Bangladesh, is a flashpoint for tensions.
“We all have a duty to control the situation, no matter who is involved or which religion they are,” said Aye Maung, an MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party.
“We all are living here together. We, as well as the government, have the duty to control it,” he told AFP.
Buddhists make up some 89 percent of the population of Burma, with Muslims officially representing four percent.
In February 2001, the then-ruling junta declared a curfew in the Arakan state capital city Sittwe after violent riots broke out between Muslims and Buddhists.
Pockets of sectarian unrest have occasionally broken out in other parts of the country.
Buddhists in Arakan have grown to resent Muslims that have moved into their relatively affluent state from Bangladesh, who have long crossed into Burma’s border provinces seeking seasonal work.