YANGON - A boat carrying almost 70 Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing sectarian tensions capsized Sunday off Myanmar's coast, police said, leaving dozens missing in treacherous seas.
The boat was believed to be carrying the Rohingya from Myanmar's western state of Rakhine to Malaysia, where thousands of members of the Muslim minority have sought sanctuary since violent clashes with Buddhists erupted last year.
"Altogether 66 people - 38 men and 28 women - were on board when the boat capsized," a police official in Rakhine told AFP, adding six survivors had been found in the Bay of Bengal.
The missing are believed to have been IDPs (internally displaced persons) from the area around the state capital Sittwe, the officer added, requesting anonymity.
Around 140,000 people - the majority of them Rohingya - were displaced by two waves of violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine last year that left some 200 people dead.
Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar since then, many paying smugglers for passage on rickety and overcrowded boats to Malaysia or further south, despite the dangers posed by rough seas in the Bay of Bengal.
The United Nations has raised fears that the number of Rohingya fleeing camps for the displaced will rise further this year. It has urged Myanmar's reformist government to address the humanitarian crisis.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva said Friday it had received "worrying reports" that around 1,500 people had left the Rakhine area in recent days as the annual sailing season gets underway.