Martial law in Myanmar district

Authorities imposed martial law in an area of Myanmar's western Rakhine State on Saturday after Muslims allegedly torched hundreds of houses and killed at least five people.

State media announced that Maung Thaw district, about 230 kilometres west of Yangon, was under a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

One official claimed the attackers came from a "neighbouring country".

"Nineteen shops, 386 houses and one hotel were burned," said a statement on President Thein Sein's official website. "Four men and a woman were killed with knives."

The exact number of casualties was hard to determine as many villagers had fled to the hills, villagers said.

"Around 100 people were injured," said Zaw Than, a resident of Maung Thaw. "Soldiers are still searching for victims who are hiding in the hills."

Vice President Sai Mauk Khen flew to Rakhine to inspect the scene. Troops were fully deployed and military doctors have been sent by plane to the area.

Armed Rohingya came early on Saturday morning "to destroy and burn down the villages", a Myanmar official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"They came from the neighbouring country by boats."

The rampage was reportedly sparked when Muslims attacked a Buddhist funeral procession.

Six days earlier, a mob killed 10 Muslims in nearby Taunggup to avenge the rape and murder of a local woman, allegedly by Muslims.

Police detained three Muslim suspects.

The mob of 300 people attacked a bus carrying some Muslim passengers from nearby Thandwe to Yangon, killing 10 and destroying the vehicle.

Rakhine State borders Bangladesh, which is mostly Muslim. It is home to large numbers of Rohingya, a Muslim group described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Myanmar, which considers the stateless Rohingya as foreigners and not one of its ethnic groups, has an estimated 750,000 Rohingya, living mainly in Rakhine, according to the UN.

Another one million or more are believed to live in exile in other countries.

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Writer: DPA and AFP