Myanmar govt pleads for end to ethnic strife

Myanmar's government has appealed for peace in the western state of Rakhine, warning that ethnic violence there that has taken at least 56 lives in recent days risks harming the country's reputation as it seeks to install democratic rule.

The mob violence pitting the Buddhist Rakhine community against the Muslim Rohingya has seen entire villages torched and has drawn international calls for government intervention.

"The army, police, and authorities in cooperation with local people will try to restore peace and stability and will take legal action against any individual or organisation that is trying to instigate the unrest," said a statement from the office of President Thein Sein published today in the state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper.

Since Sunday, 25 men and 31 women have been reported dead and 60 men and four women injured in the violence in four Rakhine townships, state government spokesman Win Myaing said yesterday. He did not break down the casualties by ethnic group.
The government said 1,948 houses and 8 religious buildings had been destroyed through Wednesday.

"As the international community is closely watching Myanmar's democratic transition, such unrest could tarnish the image of the country," the presidential statement said.

In June, ethnic violence in the state left at least 90 people dead and destroyed more than 3,000 homes. About 75,000 have been living in refugee camps ever since.

A statement issued late yesterday by the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the latest violence as "deeply troubling."

"The widening mistrust between the communities is being exploited by militant and criminal elements to cause large-scale loss of human lives, material destruction, displaced families as well as fear, humiliation and hatred affecting the people from all walks of life," it said.

Ban called on Myanmar authorities "to take urgent and effective action to bring under control all cases of lawlessness."

"The vigilante attacks, targeted threats and extremist rhetoric must be stopped. If this is not done, the fabric of social order could be irreparably damaged and the reform and opening up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardised," said Ban.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was deeply concerned about the reports and urged restraint.

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