One Rohingya Muslim man was killed and six wounded when they were attacked by a mob of Arakanese Buddhists in the capital of Burma’s troubled northwestern Arakan State on Tuesday, officials said.
Tensions between minority Muslims and majority Buddhists have been running high in Arakan since an army crackdown in response to Rohingya insurgent attacks in October, but Sittwe has not seen a repeat of communal clashes that killed dozens and displaced about 140,000 people in 2012.
The seven men had travelled into Sittwe from a camp on the outskirts of the town housing people displaced in the 2012 violence, said Police Captain Kyaw Moe at Sittwe’s central police station.
“They were attacked by several people with bricks,” he said.
A local administrator from the quarter where the attack took place, Htay Win Tun, said the attackers were Arakanese Buddhist residents of Sittwe.
Most Muslim residents have been confined to camps since 2012, when whole Muslim neighbourhoods were razed.
Rohingya are denied citizenship in Burma, where many see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They are usually only permitted to leave the camps — and Sittwe’s one remaining Muslim ward, penned in by checkpoints — when accompanied by security personnel.
On Tuesday, the men had been allowed to leave their camp to give statements in a case at Sittwe’s court, and had afterwards gone to see a boat they were planning to buy from an Arakanese businessman, according to a military intelligence officer in Sittwe and the nephew of one of the men.
At the boat jetty, according to a note on the incident by the United Nations Security Operations Centre in Burma, an argument developed.
The raised voices attracted the attention of other ethnic Arakanese men nearby, who allegedly began throwing rocks at the group, the note said.
The UN note went on to say that rumours spreading on social media about the incident were “fuelling anxieties and elevating tensions within communities in Sittwe, and elsewhere,” and that police had increased patrols in the town.
Security forces in Arakan State have been on high alert since last week, after hundreds of villagers from both Buddhist and Muslim communities fled their settlements in the north of the state after a spate of killings and amid fears of fresh attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
The United Nations has established a fact-finding mission to investigate crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the military during the counter-offensive following the October attacks. The administration of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected the allegations and opposes the mission.