YANGON • A major fire yesterday damaged or destroyed the homes of nearly 450 Rohingya Muslim families living in a camp for people displaced by 2012 communal fighting in western Myanmar.
The charred remains of wooden shelters and twisted metal roofs were visible through a thick haze of smoke after the fire broke out early in the morning, a stark reminder of dire living conditions for more than 100,000 Rohingya confined to camps in Rahkine state.
The authorities said a cooking stove caused the blaze at the Bawdupa camp near the state capital Sittwe, with strong winds believed to have spread flames from house to house in the tinder-dry area.
A local police officer said the fire was extinguished after 448 family dwellings were charred. "We are still checking whether there were any injured. We do not know yet how many people are now homeless but local authorities are working on it," he said, asking not to be named.
Some 140,000 people, mainly Rohingya, have been trapped in the grim displacement camps since they were driven from their homes by waves of violence between Buddhists and minority Muslims four years ago. The conflict left Rahkine state deeply scarred, effectively segregating communities on religious grounds and depressing the local economy.
Faced with apartheid-like restrictions that limit access to jobs, education and healthcare, thousands of Rohingya people have braved perilous boat journeys in search of better lives in Malaysia and Indonesia.
An exodus last year sparked a regional crisis and a crackdown on smuggling routes.