The United Nations has expressed concern about the most recent outbreak of communal violence in five townships in Burma's Northern Rakhine region.
The spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement Thursday, saying the widening mistrust between the communities is being exploited by militant and criminal elements, to cause large-scale loss of human lives, material destruction, displaced families as well as fear, humiliation and hatred.
The U.N. statement calls on Burmese authorities to bring under control lawlessness and vigilante attacks and to put a stop to threats and extremist rhetoric.
Fighting and chaos appear to be taking hold in western Burma, where a deep-seeded conflict between Buddhists and Muslims has flared with deadly consequences.
Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing Thursday said at least 56 people have died since new fighting erupted Sunday, including 31 women. Dozens of others have been injured.
Parts of the area also have been burned to the ground.
Burmese officials said almost 2,000 homes have now been razed by fires, along with eight religious buildings, since these latest clashes erupted.
Survivors are telling harrowing tales of the violence, including one man who said his father, Sein Thar Aung, was seriously injured during Monday's fighting in the town of Mrauk Oo.
"They (the Rohingya) were on the village road and we were on the outside one before a clash. He (SEIN THAR AUNG) was leading ahead of our group and then withdrawing back when a Kalar (Rohingya) jumped out from a house through a window and stabbed him with a spear,'' the man said.
Zaw Htay, in the office of the president, tells VOA Burmese that the government is taking action.
"In dealing with this situation, first the state government has imposed curfew. Next, the president recently ordered to send more security forces over there," Zaw Htay said.
Curfews also are being imposed on four towns at the center of the violence -- Mrauk Oo, Myebon, Minbya and Kyauk Phyu. But some witnesses say the army has so far been unable to bring any calm, with others claiming that soldiers were firing randomly into crowds to break up the fighting.
From Rangoon, United Nations coordinator Ashok Nigam issued a statement saying the U.N. is "gravely concerned," adding that the fighting "has forced thousands of people, including women and children, to flee their homes."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also called on all sides to exercise restraint.
"We join the international community and call on authorities within the country, including the government, civil and religious leaders, to take immediate action to halt the ongoing violence, to grant full humanitarian access to the affected areas and to begin a dialogue toward a peaceful resolution ensuring expeditious and transparent investigation into these and previous incidents," Nuland said.
Nuland also said the violence "underscores the critical need for mutual respect among all ethnic and religious groups."
The violence is the worst to grip the region since June, when widespread clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left dozens dead and tens of thousands displaced. The unrest prompted fears of a humanitarian crisis among the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and many other basic rights in Burma.
The ongoing violence also is threatening to undermine the reforms enacted by Burma's new nominally civilian government.
Some rights groups say the Burmese military, which has a long history of abusing minorities, unfairly targeted Muslims during the unrest. Burma's government denies the charges.