YANGON, Burma (AP) — Fresh clashes between Muslims and Buddhists have broken out in volatile western Burma, leaving at least three people dead and hundreds of homes burned to the ground, authorities said Tuesday.
The unrest, which erupted Sunday night, is some of the worst reported between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists since skirmishes swept the region in June, leaving around 70,000 people displaced.
Rakhine state Attorney-General Hla Thein said the latest violence took place in Minbyar township, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of the coastal state capital, Sittwe. It later spread farther north to Mrauk-U township. Both areas are remote, reachable only by foot, Hla Thein said.
Sunday’s riots took the lives of one Buddhist man and two Muslim women, he said. More than 340 homes, most made of wood, were also destroyed in arson attacks.
Authorities imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the townships on Monday and both areas were calm Tuesday, Hla Thein said.
The unrest comes four months after the two communities turned on one another across Rakhine state in June after the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men in late May.
That violence left at least 90 people dead and more than 3,000 homes destroyed, along with dozens of mosques and monasteries. The two communities are almost now completely segregated in towns like Sittwe, where the Rakhine are able to roam freely while the Rohingya live mostly confined to a series of displaced camps outside the city center.
The last serious clashes in Rakhine state took place in August, when government officials said seven people were killed in the town of Kyauktaw. The United Nations said 600 homes were also burned at the time.
The crisis in Burma’s west goes back decades and is rooted in a highly controversial dispute over where the region’s Muslim inhabitants are really from. Although many Rohingya have lived in Burma for generations, they are widely denigrated here as foreigners — intruders who came from neighboring Bangladesh to steal scarce land.
The U.N. estimates their number at 800,000. But the government does not count them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, and so — like Bangladesh — denies them citizenship. Human rights groups say racism also plays a role: Many Rohingya, who speak a distinct Bengali dialect and resemble Muslim Bangladeshis, have darker skin and are heavily discriminated against.
The conflict has proven to be a major challenge for the government of President Thein Sein, which has embarked on a year of democratic reforms after half a century of military rule ended in 2011.