YANGON, Myanmar – The communal violence that swept through a western Myanmar state over the past week killed 29 people and inflicted similar damage on both of the contending ethnic communities, figures from local authorities showed Thursday.
Authorities in the Rakhine state capital Sittwe also revealed that 30,000 people had been displaced, much higher than previous tallies and possibly posing a relief problem for a poor area.
While government media had made some effort to not directly blame either side for the violence — describing rioters as 'terrorists' — other press coverage and news spread over the Internet gave a strong impression that the Rohingya community was mostly the aggressor.
The reports fueled long-standing prejudice against the Rohingya, who Myanmar's government and many citizens widely regard as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
The government appeared keen to keep the violence from spreading into a Buddhist-Muslim split elsewhere in the country. Although the tensions in Rakhine state are based on ethnic rivalries, they also split along religious lines.
The media briefing in Sittwe, led by Rakhine state minister for border affairs Col. Htein Lin, was the first since serious rioting broke out last Friday in the state's Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships.
Officials told reporters that 13 ethnic Rakhines and 16 Rohingya Muslims were killed in clashes from last Friday through Wednesday, while the injured included 16 Rakhine and 22 Rohingya.
They also said 31,884 displaced people are being sheltered at monasteries and schools. Of 2,528 houses that were burned down, 1,192 belonged to Rakhines and 1,336 belonged to Rohingyas.
Nine Buddhist monasteries and seven mosques were also burned, they said. Unrest hit eight areas in all, they said: Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Sittwe, Rambree Island, Mrauk Oo, Ponna Kyun , Pauk Taw and Kyauktaw, with the most damage and death in Maungdaw and Sittwe.
Army troops were called out to help quell the violence last Friday and a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed, and when the situation spread to Sittwe, a seaport and the area's main urban center, President Thein Sein declared an emergency for the state, giving the military full administrative powers to keep order.
Sittwe was calm for the second straight day, with banks and some shops open.
The violence had drawn appeals globally for a restoration of peace, and Thein Sein had said if it spread, it would threaten his policy of democratic reforms after five decades of repressive military rule.
On Wednesday Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N.'s human rights expert for Myanmar, warned that the recent deadly violence in Rakhine state poses a "serious threat" to the country's future.
"It is critical that the government intensify its efforts to defuse tension and restore security to prevent the violence from spreading further," he said in a statement.
The U.S. Embassy in Myanmar issued a statement saying Charge d'Affaires Michael Thurston had met separately in Yangon with local Muslim organizations and the Rakhine National Development Party.
"The most important thing now is that all sides remain calm. Further dialogue is needed. And dialogue can only occur when there is calm," the statement quoted Thurston saying.
It also said the embassy encouraged Myanmar's government to investigate in a manner that respects due process and the rule of law.
(This version CORRECTS border official's name to Col. Htein Lin, not Win Htein.)