14 May 2013

Boat capsizes off western Myanmar

7:22 pm on 14 May 2013

A boat carrying Rohingya Muslims has capsized off western Myanmar, according to aid agencies.

The vessel, said to be carrying up to 200 passengers, was evacuating people ahead of Cyclone Mahasen, expected to hit the area later this week.

It sank off Pauktaw township in Rakhine state late on Monday (local time), leaving an unknown number of people missing.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are living in temporary camps in Rakhine after violence last year, the BBC reports.

The United Nations had called for an urgent evacuation ahead of the storm, warning that many areas where displaced people are now living are in low-lying coastal areas at risk of flooding or tidal surges.

Barbara Manzi, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said search and rescue operations are continuing.

Officials began evacuations this week, after warnings the cyclone may hit neighbouring Bangladesh from Thursday, bringing heavy rain and flooding to western Myanmar.

This could hit an estimated 140,000 displaced people - mostly Rohingya - who are living in makeshift shelters in Rakhine, aid groups say.

They have been displaced since violent clashes between Rakhine's Muslim and Buddhist communities in June and October 2012.