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Violence In Rakhine Needs To End

A Buddhist monk stands in the debris of burned houses still smoldering in Sittwe, Burma, Monday, June 11, 2012.

The conflict has enveloped many from various ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Violence has erupted in Rakhine state in the western region of Burma. The conflict has enveloped many from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, including ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, Muslims, and the Rohingya, marking some of the worst sectarian unrest in Burma in years.

Burmese President Thein Sein has declared a state of emergency in Rakhine State; state-run, local, and international press report varying numbers of casualties and villages destroyed. The unrest in Burma began with the rape and murder last month of a Buddhist woman, allegedly perpetrated by three Muslims. Following this attack, on June 3rd, a mob attacked a bus with Muslims returning from a religious pilgrimage, killing 10 in an apparent retaliatory act. Since these incidents, violence has increased and spread and is now targeting the Rohingya ethnic minority who are predominately Muslim, but reportedly were not involved in either the rape or bus incidents. Burma's government does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group and has denied them citizenship; although many have lived in Burma for generations, they continue to suffer persecution, experiencing severe legal, economic, and social discrimination.

The United States, said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, continues to be deeply concerned about the ongoing ethnic and sectarian violence in Rakhine state and urges all parties to exercise restraint and immediately halt all attacks.

The U.S. joins with others in the international community and calls on authorities to work with local leaders, together with Muslim, Buddhist, and ethnic representatives, including Rohingya, to begin a dialogue toward a peaceful resolution, and ensure an expeditious and transparent investigation into these incidents that respects due process and the rule of law. It is also important to begin a dialogue process to promote mutual understanding and find common ground among those with different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

The United States has welcomed Burma’s recent reform efforts and the important steps President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other leaders inside and outside of government have taken. The situation in Rakhine State underscores the critical need for mutual respect among all ethnic groups and religious groups and for serious efforts to achieve national reconciliation in Burma. The U.S. urges the people of Burma to work together toward a peaceful, prosperous and democratic country that respects the rights of all its diverse peoples.