YANGON, Myanmar, June 12 (UPI) -- Myanmar President Thein Sein has appealed for calm in Rakhine state as clashes between the Muslim minority and Buddhist majority escalate.
Tensions rose dramatically last week after 10 Muslims were killed by a mob that pulled them from their bus, the independent news Web site Irrawaddy, published in Thailand, said.
The second incident happened in the Rakhine capital Sittwe the same day when police opened fire to warn protesters who had surrounded a local police station.
The mob was demanding the release of three men suspected of the rape and murder of a woman May 28.
But unrest around Sittwe and surrounding villages has continued with reports of Muslim and Buddhist groups setting fire to houses.
Thein Sein broadcast his appeal on national media, saying despite a diversity of religious beliefs, Myanmar has "a very long history of amicable co-existence with reciprocity."
He said the government is cooperating with religious leaders, political parties and other groups including community elders to resolve the issue, a report in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.
"For peace and stability and rule of law in the country, it is not the sole responsibility of the government," said Thein Sein.
"People need to wisely obey the laws" to ensure peace.
He urged everyone to "work together with the government" to not allow unrest to grow, the New Light report said.
His appeal comes as the United Nations began relocating non-essential staff out of the state to the former Myanmar capital of Yangon.
The United Nations also called for increased security to protect is remaining staff and that of non-government organizations.
Thein Sein also has declared a state of emergency in areas of Rakhine and begun moving in troops to help local police.
Rakhine, formerly called Arakan state, occupies most of Myanmar's west coast on the Bay of Bengal and has a relatively large Muslim population. Within Myanmar, Buddhists make up 89 percent of the population while Muslims and Christians make up around 4 percent each, United Nations estimates state.
Rakhine state also is home to Rohingya, Muslims with close ties to neighboring Bangladesh.
A report by the Kaladan Press Network, a Rohingya media organization in Chittagong, Bangladesh, said Myanmar police have been alongside ethnic Rakhines, who are Buddhists, while they looted and burned Rohingya homes.
Last week the government responded to the first incidents of violence by appointing a police and military commission to investigate what sparked off the unrest and to bring those responsible to justice.
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