Malteser International
Malteser International banner in Sittwe Malteser International

A Buddhist mob has attacked international aid workers in Myanmar's Rakhine state capital Sittwe, forcing them to find refuge at a local police station.

Hundreds of Buddhists threw rocks at homes and offices of workers of international non-governmental organisations such as UNICEF, UNOCHA and Malteser International.

The mob violence allegedly started after a foreign female NGO worker removed a Buddhist flag from the front of her office and placed it in her pocket. The gesture was interpreted by some locals as a sign of disrespect.

Malteser International spokesperson Johannes Kaltenbach said the flag was removed in accordance to their policy of no religious of political signs. The crowd, initially of 50 people, grew in number and ransacked some offices of aid workers, also damaging three cars.

It culminated in more than 1,000 people running through a street that houses international aid workers, throwing rocks at homes and damaging several residences.

Police escorted aid workers from their homes for safety reasons.

Other aid groups said they were evacuating non-essential staff from Sittwe. At least two charter flights, one flying out Thursday and another Friday, have been arranged.

Aid groups that have been operating in the Rakhine state, where violence against Rohingya Muslims flared in the last months, have faced threats and intimidation.

Last month, Doctors without Borders was expelled from the state, in part because its staff included Rohingya Muslims.

Violence against Myanmar's Muslims has intensified over the past two years, incited by extremist monks and the virulent anti-Muslim '969' campaign, which espouses hate and urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya remain displaced in Rakhine state after clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims in 2012 left about 200 people dead.

In January, Burmese police set fire to at least 70 Rohingya homes in the village of Du Char Yar Tan, where at least 48 Muslims were said to have been killed by a Buddhist mob.