* Houses torched in northwest Myanmar
* EU praises "measured" government reaction
* US urges efforts at national reconciliation
* Curfews on route to tourist beaches
(Recasts with reaction from Hillary Clinton)
BRUSSELS, June 11 The European Union said on
Monday it was satisfied with Myanmar's "measured" handling of
the Muslim-Buddhist violence that engulfed one of its biggest
towns at the weekend, while the United States urged all ethnic
groups to work at reconciliation.
As rival mobs of Muslims and Buddhists torched houses in
Sittwe, the biggest town in northwestern Myanmar, police fired
into the air and Muslims fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.
The fighting was the worst communal violence since a
reformist government replaced a junta last year, began to allow
political pluralism and vowed to tackle ethnic divisions. Those
reforms helped persuade the United States and the European Union
to suspend economic sanctions.
The European Union welcomed the "measured response" of
Myanmar President Thein Sein, who has warned against
"never-ending hatred, desire for revenge and anarchic actions".
"We believe that the security forces are handling this
difficult intercommunal violence in an appropriate way," said
Maja Kocijanic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief
Catherine Ashton. "We welcome the priority which the Myanmar
government is giving to dealing with all ethnic conflicts."
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she
was "deeply concerned" about the strife and reports that the
violence was continuing.
"The situation in Rakhine State underscores the critical
need for mutual respect among all ethnic and religious groups
and for serious efforts to achieve national reconciliation in
Burma," she said in a statement.
"We urge the people of Burma to work together toward a
peaceful, prosperous, and democratic country that respects the
rights of all its diverse peoples," Clinton added.
EU states suspended most sanctions after the government
released many political prisoners, allowed opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party to contest by-elections, and
lifted some repressive measures.
They had previously frozen the assets of nearly 1,000
companies and institutions, and banned almost 500 people from
entering the bloc.
The United States, which had imposed more stringent and
comprehensive sanctions on Myanmar, also suspended curbs on U.S.
investment and the provision of financial services in response
to changes in the country.
At least eight people were killed and many wounded,
authorities said, after fighting erupted on Friday in the town
of Maungdaw, and quickly spread to Sittwe and nearby villages.
Sate-run MRTV announced curfews in three towns, including
Thandwe, the gateway to Myanmar's tourist beaches, and
Kyaukphyu, where China is building a port complex.
The United Nations said it had started evacuating staff from
The violence could harm tourism and foreign investment in
Myanmar as it emerges from decades of army rule.
Western firms are keen to help meet Myanmar's vast need for
investment in health, telecommunications, housing, energy and
other infrastructure after decades of isolation.
It also has large untapped resources of oil and natural gas
and the potential to be a major exporter of rice and wood.
Moreover, Myanmar neighbours the world's two biggest emerging
markets, China and India.
Buddhists and Muslims have long lived in uneasy proximity in
Sittwe, where ethnic Rakhine Buddhists were carrying bamboo
stakes, machetes, slingshots and other makeshift weapons at the
weekend after Muslims were seen setting houses on fire.
"We have now ordered troops to protect the airport and the
Rakhine villages under attack in Sittwe," Zaw Htay, director of
the president's office, told Reuters. "Arrangements are under
way to impose a curfew in some other towns."
Some victims of the violence were from the stateless
Rohingya group of Muslims, who live in abject conditions along
Myanmar's border with Bangladesh and are despised by many
Rakhine, who belong to the predominantly Buddhist majority.
About 100 Rohingyas tried to flee by boat into Bangladesh
but were pushed back on Monday morning, Bangladesh's border
Five boats carrying about 200 Rohingyas were pushed back out
to sea on Sunday, said Anwar Hossain, a major with the guard.
Rohingya activists have long demanded recognition in Myanmar
as an indigenous ethnic group with full citizenship by
birthright, claiming a centuries-old lineage in Rakhine State,
where they number some 800,000.
But the government regards them as illegal immigrants from
Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh has refused
to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992.
The authorities have blamed Rohingya mobs for the violence.
But Rohingya activists and residents accuse ethnic Rakhine of
terrorising their communities.
The western region has been tense for more than a week after
the gang rape and murder of a Buddhist woman, widely blamed on
Muslims, and the reprisal killing of 10 Muslims by a Buddhist
mob a week ago.
State media said three men had gone on trial on Friday for
the rape and murder.
(Reporting by Reuters in Sittwe, Nurul Islam in Bangladesh and
Sebastian Moffett in Brussels. Writing by Andrew R.C. Marshall
and Sebastian Moffett. Editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel)