1. ITV Report

Muslims flee sectarian violence in Burma

Boatloads of Muslims have been fleeing sectarian violence in Burma's restive state of Rakhine as a human rights organisation released a satellite image appearing to show widespread destruction.

Many of the unstable wooden boats were headed for refugee camps or for the safety of small surrounding islands.

There were reports that some boats were turned away by security guards at the busy refugee camps. A government source said their passengers were receiving food and water in the relative safety of the state capital Sittwe.

Rohingya Muslims share the western state of Rakhine with Buddhists and there have been many clashes over the years.

Satellite image allegedly showing extensive destruction of property in a largely Rohingya Muslim area of Kyauk Pyu. Credit: Human Rights Watch

The New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch has released satellite imagery which it says show the "near total destruction" of a booming coastal community reduced to ashes.

It said the images show over 811 buildings and houseboats were destroyed in Kyaukpyu, about 75 miles south of Sittwe.

The United Nations has warned that Burma's new democracy could be "irreparably damaged" by the communal violence which has already lasted several days.

It comes five months after machete and arson attacks took the lives of over 80 people and displaced at least 75,000 in the same area.

On Friday, the Home Minister said the government was ready to install martial law and emergency rule in the area if violence increased.

A committee of lawmakers led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has called for tighter security and speedy legal action against those involved in the violence.

Aung San Suu Kyi. Credit: PA

There are historic ethnic and religious tensions between Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhines who were suppressed during five decades of military rule in the country.

Burma's 800,000 Rohingyas are officially stateless and are seen by the government of the majority Buddhist country as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. As a result, it denies them citizenship.

Bangladesh does not recognise Rohingyas either and the United Nations has called them "virtually friendless".A Rakhine government spokesman put the death toll at 112 as of Friday, but within hours state media revised that figure down to 67. It also reported 95 wounded and nearly 3,000 houses destroyed between October 21 and 25.

Human Rights Watch said the figures could be much higher based on "allegations from witnesses fleeing scenes of carnage and the government's well-documented history of underestimating figures that might lead to criticism of the state".