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12 more die in sectarian violence in Myanmar

By Kocha Olarn, CNN
June 21, 2012 -- Updated 1001 GMT (1801 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The World Food Programme estimbates 90,000 people are displaced and need help
  • The attack that appears to have set off the unrest involved the rape and killing of a woman
  • Two Muslim men receive the death penalty; a third already hanged himself in jail
  • Amnesty International calls for an independent investigation into the violence

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- A dozen more people have died during ongoing sectarian violence in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine, bringing the death toll from the unrest to 62, a local official said Wednesday.

"The town has returned to normalcy, but the martial law and curfew are still in place," said Win Myaing, a spokesman for state affairs. "Residents can't leave their compounds from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. and gatherings of more than five people are not allowed in order to prevent unrest."

Violence between Buddhists and Muslims erupted after the police detained three Muslim men in relation to the rape and killing of a Buddhist woman late last month. Two of the men were sentenced to death this week, the government-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported on its website. A third man hanged himself while in detention on June 9.

News of the crime appears to have motivated several hundred people to attack a bus in Rakhine in early June, killing 10 Muslims who were on board.

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Violence between Buddhists and Muslims then spread across the northern part of the state, resulting in the destruction of thousands of homes and the deaths of about 50 people, according to the government.

The national government declared a state of emergency in Rakhine, bringing in the military to help restore order.

Rakhine is home to the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority who say they have been persecuted the Myanmar military during its decades of authoritarian rule.

Hundreds of Rohingyas tried last week to cross the border into neighboring Bangladesh to flee the sectarian violence.

But the Bangladeshi authorities have turned them back, saying they already have too many Rohingya refugees. Bangladeshi officials estimate 300,000 Rohingyas live in the country, with about a 10th of them in two official refugee camps.

The unrest in Rakhine appears to have subsided notably from its peak earlier this month.

The challenge for the authorities and international aid groups is supporting the thousands of people driven from their homes by the violence.

U.N. World Food Programme estimated this week that "there are about 90,000 displaced people in need of assistance as a result of the recent clashes."

"The situation in northern Rakhine State remains very tense," the human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement Tuesday.

The organization called on the authorities to "ensure full and unfettered humanitarian access to displaced people, and conduct an independent and impartial investigation into recent communal violence."

Vijay Nambiar, a U.N. envoy who visited the affected area, said last week that repairing relations between the different communities in Rakhine would be "a long haul."

The unrest has tested the efforts of President Thein Sein's administration to seek reconciliation with Myanmar's different ethnic groups and move the country toward more democratic governance.

CNN's Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

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