x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bangladesh turns away Muslims fleeing Myanmar

Bangladesh border guards yesterday turned back eight boats carrying more than 300 Rohingya Muslims, mostly women and children, fleeing religious violence in Myanmar.

TEKNAF. BANGLADESH // Bangladesh border guards yesterday turned back eight boats carrying more than 300 Rohingya Muslims, mostly women and children, fleeing religious violence in Myanmar.

Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and coastguard patrol teams, which have been ordered to prevent an influx of refugees, intercepted the boats on the Naf river that separates the two nations, said BGB major Shafiqur Rahman.

"There were more than 300 Rohingya in the boats which are coming from the Myanmar city of Akyab [Sittwe]. They were carrying mainly Rohingya women and children, many of whom were crying and looked extremely anxious," he said.

Akyab is the former name of Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar's western Rakhine state where sectarian violence flared last week, leaving at least 17 people dead and prompting the authorities to declare a state of emergency.

Fearful Sittwe residents cowering indoors yesterday, security forces patrolling the town collected bodies from the debris of homes burnt down over the weekend.

The Buddhist-Muslim violence, which has left at least seven people dead and hundreds of homes set on fire since Friday, poses one the biggest tests yet for Myanmar's new government as it struggles to reform the nation after generations of military rule. The handling of the unrest will draw scrutiny from western powers, which have praised president Thein Sein's administration in recent months, and rewarded it by easing years of harsh economic sanctions.

Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in the region on Sunday and pleaded for an end to the "endless anarchic vengeance", warning that if the situation got out of control, it could jeopardise the democratic reforms he has launched since taking office last year.

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Associated Press