Myanmar beefs up security as new unrest hits west

Buddhist villagers fled their homes Saturday as renewed sectarian violence hit western Myanmar, officials said, blaming Muslim Rohingya people from a "neighbouring country" for the unrest.

Police and army reinforcements have been deployed to Rakhine State -- which borders Bangladesh -- to quell the violence after villagers' homes were set ablaze early Saturday, one government official told AFP.

Unrest flared Friday when at least four Buddhists were killed in riots in Rakhine, which is home to large numbers of Rohingya, a Muslim group described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Armed Rohingya came early in the morning "to destroy and burn down the villages", the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They came from the neighbouring country by boats."

Myanmar, which considers the stateless Rohingya as foreigners and not one of the nation's ethnic groups, has an estimated 750,000 Rohingya, living mainly in Rakhine, according to the UN.

Another one million or more are believed to live in exile in other countries.

"We can confirm so far that about 386 houses were burnt down... and some buildings were also destroyed by Rohingyas," the official said.

A second official confirmed the build-up of security forces as the state media said a night curfew would remain until further notice and announced a ban on five or more people gathering in some villages.

"The military commands have been increased... We can be attacked by Rohingyas in the future inside the country. We all should be in alert," the second official, who also did not want to be named, said.

Tensions have flared in Rakhine since 10 Muslims on a bus were killed by an angry Buddhist mob on Sunday, believing mistakenly that the perpetrators of the recent rape and murder of a Rakhine woman were onboard.

Religious clashes occur periodically in Myanmar, and Rakhine state -- which has a large Muslim minority population -- is a flashpoint for tensions.

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

The violence threatens to overshadow reconciliation efforts following a series of dramatic political reforms that came after the end of almost half a century of military rule last year.

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