NAYPYIDAW - The recent cycle of violence that engulfed western Myanmar reflects decades of systematic persecution of the Muslim minority, which is seen by many Buddhist residents are invaders of their country, analysts believe.
"All those years of discrimination, abuses and neglect are bound to bubble up at some point, and that's what we are seeing now," Elaine Pearson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, told Reuters on Monday, June 11.
Muslims make up nearly five percent of Myanmar's more than 53 million population.
The largest group of Myanmar's Muslims is the ethnic-Bengali minority, generally known as the Rohingyas, who mainly live in the western state of Rakhine.
Rohingya Muslims have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
Myanmar's government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".
"The underlying perception of many Burmese is that Rohingya are illegal migrant terrorists," said Pearson.
Those negative feelings have clearly appeared in the cycle of violence which engulfed the country this week, with many Buddhist describing Rohingyas as "invaders" or "terrorists
"It's just like a living hell. I wonder how long we will have to live like this?" said Mya Khin, a housewife.
Reuters saw residents of a mainly Rakhine village near Sittwe on Sunday set ablaze Muslim-owned houses.
"We are burning Rohingya houses because they live near our village and they gather at night and try to attack us," said an unidentified ethnic Rakhine man.
Rohingya activists and residents accuse ethnic Rakhine of terrorizing their communities.
"The security forces are helping them destroy Muslim houses," the man, a retired government official who also requested anonymity, said by telephone from his house near Sittwe airport.
Anti-Muslim sentiments in Rakhine State are mirrored online.
"They should shoot at least one (to) make them shut up," read a comment on Facebook under a photo purporting to show rioting Muslims.
Using their newfound freedom of expression and easier access to the Internet, Buddhists used the social networking site to express anti-Rohingya sentiments that have simmered for decades.
Twitter users are railing against "Rohingya terrorists," one under the hashtag "#OneThingWeAllHate".
Other hateful tweets appeared on the social networking site Twitter.
@kozawgyi: We do not want #Extremist #Rohingya #Terrorist who engage in destructive acts in our Land. Our emotion is as same as USA #9/11 attack!
@nyaseasar: Rohingya is not a nationality in Myanmar.They killed innocent Rakhine people and burned native villages.They are terrorists.
@goddess_ofspace: #rakhine people are not terrorist people... #ROHINGYA are ~!!!!
These sentiments were also echoed by nationalist blogs such as Won Thar Nu, which ran gruesome photos of what it said were Buddhist victims, accusing the Rohingya of staging a "foreign invasion".
To escape the hateful atmosphere, thousands of Muslim Rohingyas flee Myanmar every year in wooden boats, embarking on a hazardous journey to Thailand or Malaysia in search of a better life.
Rohingyas say they are deprived of free movement, education and employment in their homeland.They are not recognized as an ethnic minority by Myanmar and say they suffer human rights abuses at the hands of government officials.