Hundreds of Muslims in western Myanmar relocated

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Hundreds of Muslims trapped in ghetto-like conditions in western Myanmar after their homes were torched by Buddhist-mobs last year were moved Saturday to a camp for internally displaced people, officials said.

Government spokesman Win Myaing said the relocation from Aung Mingalar quarter in Sittwe township was voluntary. But one well-known activist said many of the families were worried their conditions would go from bad to worse once they left.

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country of 60 million, has been gripped by religious violence since military rulers handed over power to a nominally civilian government.

The unrest began last year in the western state of Rakhine — home to Sittwe — where Buddhists accuse the Rohingya Muslim community of illegally entering the country and encroaching on their land. The violence then spread on a smaller, but still deadly scale to other parts of Myanmar, leaving more than 250 people dead — most of them Muslims — and sending another 140,000 fleeing their homes.

More than 5,700 people have been living in Aung Mingalar, a Muslim quarter in Sittwe that spans several blocks, since violence broke out in June 2012, with storefronts shuttered and police with assault rifles blocking entry and exit.

Win Myaing said 577 people who moved into the neighborhood after losing their houses to mob violence were relocated to camps outside of Sittwe on Saturday, with more relocations planned for Sunday. He said new shelters had been built for them.

Thousands more, who didn’t lose their homes, will remain in Aung Mingalar, he said.

“This is a voluntary relocation,” Win Myaing said. “We discussed it with them one day ahead of the move.”

Shwe Zan Aung, a Muslim elder from Aung Mingalar who is among those who will stay, agreed.

“There were 5,700 Muslim people in Aung Mingalar, but about 1,144 people lost their homes during violence last year,” he said.

But Aung Win, a well-respected Rohingya activist, said many were very unhappy about leaving, worrying that they will lose their support system and access to food rations.

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