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April 28, 2017

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Exodus of thousands after deadly Myanmar unrest

SITTWE, Myanmar -- Thousands of displaced people have surged toward already overcrowded camps in western Myanmar, officials said Saturday, after vicious new communal violence that has left dozens dead.

Seething resentment between Buddhists and Muslims erupted this week in new unrest in Rakhine state that has seen whole neighborhoods razed and caused a fresh exodus of people fleeing for safety from Rohingya minority areas.

The latest fighting, which has prompted international warnings that the nation's reforms could be under threat, has killed at least 67 people. It was unclear how many from each community had died, but a state official has said roughly half the dead were women.

Tens of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingya are already crammed into squalid camps around the state capital Sittwe after deadly violence in June and Rakhine state officials said the latest bloodshed had caused an influx of boats carrying around 6,000 people to the city.

"The local government is planning to relocate them to a suitable place. We are having problems because more people are coming," said Rakhine government spokesman Hla Thein. Some of the displaced are still on boats while several thousand have docked on an island opposite Sittwe.

The United Nations earlier said 3,200 had made their way toward shelters in Sittwe, with a further several thousand on the way.

Residents of one camp in a coastal area on the outskirts of Sittwe said they could see boatloads of Rohingya on the shore.

"The security forces are not allowing them to come in. Some people are on the shore and some are still on their boats," Kyaw Kyaw told AFP by telephone.

He added the group of several thousand people, including women and children, was believed to be from just two towns.

State media reported that almost 3,000 homes and 18 religious buildings had been torched in seven townships during the latest fighting, which erupted on October 21, spreading to areas that had been largely untouched by the earlier conflict.

More than 150 people have been killed in the state since June, according to the authorities, who have imposed emergency rule in an attempt to control the violence.

But rights groups fear the real toll could far exceed official figures and have warned that entrenched hostilities in the region are continuing to stoke unrest.

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