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Burma death toll revised down to 67

Burma's authorities have revised downward the death toll from this week's ethnic violence in the country's west after warning that the strife risks harming the country's reputation as it seeks to shift to democratic rule.

State television reported that 67 people had died, 95 were injured and 2,818 houses burned down from Sunday through to yesterday in seven townships of Rakhine state.

Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing told reporters shortly before the broadcast that the previous count he had given of 112 dead in violence involving the Buddhist Rakhine and the Muslim Rohingya communities was based on a mistaken tally of figures received by his office. His revised figures of 64 dead and 68 wounded was slightly lower than that given by state television.

"Many of those who were killed as a result of clashes between the two sides, and at least two died of gunshot injuries," Mr Win Myaing said.

There has been no breakdown by ethnic group of the casualties. Some Rakhine residents in affected areas have told The Associated Press they were shot at by government soldiers trying to keep order.

The mob violence has seen entire villages torched and has drawn calls worldwide for government intervention. In June, ethnic violence in the state left at least 90 people dead and destroyed more than 3,000 homes. About 75,000 have been living in refugee camps ever since.

Curfews have been in place in some areas since June, and been extended to others due to the recent violence. Tensions still simmer in part because the government has failed to find any long-term solution to the crisis other than segregating the two communities in some areas.

Thein Sein's government has described the problem as an obstacle to development on other fronts. He took office as an elected president last year, and has instituted economic and political liberalisation after almost half a century of repressive military rule.

"As the international community is closely watching Myanmar's democratic transition, such unrest could tarnish the image of the country," said a statement from the office of President Thein Sein published today in the state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper.

The long-brewing conflict is rooted in a dispute over the Muslim residents' origin. Although many Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, they are widely denigrated as intruders who came from neighbouring Bangladesh to steal scarce land.

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