Myanmar sectarian violence worsens

More than 80 people have been killed in Myanmar due to ongoing sectarian violence.

Myanmar flag.

YANGON - Hundreds of homes burned and gunfire rang out as sectarian violence raged for a fifth day between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in western Myanmar on Thursday, testing the country's nascent democracy.

Security forces struggled to stem Myanmar's worst communal unrest since clashes in June killed more than 80 people and displaced at least 75,000. The latest violence has spread over several towns, including commercially important Kyaukpyu, where a multibillion dollar China-Myanmar pipeline starts.

The violence is one of the biggest tests yet of a new reformist government that has vowed to forge unity in one of Asia's most ethnically diverse countries.

The United Nations called for calm in volatile Rakhine State, citing reports of hundreds of houses destroyed since Sunday and large numbers of people seeking refuge in over-crowded camps near the state capital, Sittwe.

"The U.N. is gravely concerned about reports of a resurgence of inter-communal conflict in several areas in Rakhine State which has resulted in deaths and has forced thousands of people including women and children to flee their homes," Ashok Nigam, U.N. resident and humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, said in a statement.

Access to Rakhine State was restricted and information hard to verify, but witnesses said at least three people were killed on Thursday, bringing this week's death toll to at least five. There were widespread unconfirmed reports of razed and burning homes, gunfights and Rohingya fleeing by boat.

A representative of the Wan Lark foundation, which helps ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, said local people told him trouble had flared in the early hours of Thursday in Kyauk Taw, a town north of the state capital, Sittwe.

"Fires started in Pike Thel village. About 20 houses were burned. There was gunfire reported and, as far as we know, three Rakhines were shot dead on the spot," Tun Min Thein told Reuters by telephone.