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September 21, 2017

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Top UN envoy visits turbulent western Myanmar

SITTWE, Myanmar--A top U.N. envoy arrived in strife-torn western Myanmar on Wednesday as security forces grappled with sectarian violence that has left dozens dead and hundreds of homes burned down.

A state of emergency has been declared in Rakhine state, which has been rocked by a wave of rioting and arson. A dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed in many areas.

Vijay Nambiar, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's special adviser on Myanmar, flew into the capital of Rakhine to visit Maungdaw, a town near the border with Bangladesh where the violence flared on Friday. He was accompanied by Myanmar's Border Affairs Minister General Thein Htay and 15 Muslim leaders from Yangon.

"We're here to observe and assess how we can continue to provide support to Rakhine," Ashok Nigam, U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator who was also in the group, told AFP.

An uneasy calm pervaded Sittwe, which has been rattled by gunfire in recent days and was drenched by heavy rains on Wednesday. Local residents have been seen roaming the streets wielding knives, swords and sticks, while people from both the mainly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities have been forced to flee their homes.

The Buddhists and Rohingya have both accused each other of violent attacks.

Around 25 people have been killed and a further 41 people were wounded in five days of unrest, an official told AFP on Tuesday. Rohingya leaders say the real number of dead is much higher but AFP could not verify the allegation. The toll does not include 10 Muslims who were killed on June 3 by a Buddhist mob in apparent revenge for the rape and murder of a woman, sparking the violence in Rakhine.

Rakhine, a predominantly Buddhist state bordering Bangladesh, is home to a large number of Muslims including the Rohingya, described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Hundreds of Rohingya, many of them women and children, have attempted to flee to Bangladesh in rickety boats in recent days, but have been turned away. Border guards on Wednesday said they had refused entry to another three vessels, although a single 6-week-old baby girl found floating alone in a boat was rescued and placed with a local family.

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