(Reuters) – Boatloads of Muslims struggled to reach refugee camps and sought safety on islands and in coastal villages on Saturday as Myanmar tried to put out the fires of a week of sectarian unrest that has shaken its fragile democratic transition.
Dozens of rickety wooden vessels packed with the stateless Rohingya Muslims who fled clashes with Buddhists in western Rakhine state had reached land by Saturday after two days at sea, but nine boats were still unaccounted for, according to several Rohingya refugee sources reached by telephone.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Myanmar’s reformist government to protect Muslims from “vicious” attacks, and released satellite images of the “near total destruction” of a once-thriving coastal community reduced to ashes around Kyaukpyu, an industrial zone important to Chinese energy interests.
The United Nations has warned that Myanmar’s fledgling democracy could be “irreparably damaged” by a week of communal violence which has come five months after machete and arson attacks killed more than 80 people and displaced at least 75,000 in the same region.
No new clashes were reported on Saturday, a day after the Home Minister said the government was prepared to declare martial law and emergency rule in the region if violence escalated. A committee of lawmakers led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi called on Friday for security reinforcements and swift legal action against those behind fighting in which at least 67 people were killed.