YANGON, Myanmar – Several women villagers from Myanmar's Rohingya minority have been shot dead in a confrontation with security officials, police and activists said Wednesday.
A police officer in Mrauk-U township in western Rakhine state said Wednesday that three women died in Parein village, where they were part of a crowd that defied efforts to relocate them from the housing in which they have been living since their original homes were burned by Buddhists in a wave of sectarian clashes last year.
The officer from the Special Branch political police, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to release information, said two men and two women were injured.
A website covering Rohingya news, Rohingya Blogger, said four women were shot dead and five other villagers wounded in the Tuesday confrontation, which broke out when workers from another township came to unload wood to build new dwellings. It said that when Parein villagers sought to stop the unloading, they began quarreling with police, who opened fire on them.
The police officer said some in the Rohingya crowd carried knives, sticks and slingshots.
Several hundred people were killed and about 140,000 fled or lost their homes in Rakhine last year in two waves of sectarian violence that targeted mostly members of the Muslim Rohingya community. While the conflict seemed contained at the time, communal violence spread this year to central and northeastern Myanmar, with Muslims again targeted as several dozen people were killed.
The violence threatens to undermine the political and economic reforms undertaken by President Thein Sein, who came to power as an elected chief executive in 2011 after almost five decades of military rule.
The government's failure to effectively tackle the problem also risks shaking the confidence of Western countries, which have rewarded Thein Sein's reforms by lifting sanctions that were applied against the previous repressive army regime.
The latest incident took place just ahead of a regional meeting in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw of the World Economic Forum, which will be attended by hundreds of business leaders and opinion-makers from around the world and is meant to showcase the positive changes made under the new government.
Similar though not fatal confrontations over relocation of Rohingyas were reported last month, when officials sought to move reluctant residents from camps thought to be vulnerable to damage from an expected cyclone. In the end, Cyclone Mahasen veered away from Myanmar, causing no damage. But aid workers note that many of the camps, almost all of which shelter Muslim Rohingyas, have inadequate shelter, medical care and other basic services.