Amid reports of massacres and the systematic torching of villages in Rakhine state, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says it is the government’s responsibility to provide security and allow aid agencies to reach those in need.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday expressed concern over reports of violence in Myanmar’s northwest and urged security forces to show restraint to avoid “a humanitarian catastrophe.”
It is the bloodiest chapter yet in a bitter five-year crisis that has torn apart Myanmar’s Rakhine state along ethnic and religious lines.
The violence has led to the displacement of the region’s Rohingya community in huge numbers and heaped international condemnation on Myanmar’s army and the government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
“The secretary-general is deeply concerned by the reports of excesses during the security operations conducted by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine State and urges restraint and calm to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe,” Guterres said in a statement.
Around 400 people - most of them Rohingya Muslims - have died in the violence, according to the army chief’s office on Friday.
The UN says 38,000 have sought refuge across the border in Bangladesh.
A further 20,000 Rohingya have massed along the Bangladeshi frontier, barred from entering the South Asian country.
Scores of desperate people have drowned attempting to cross the Naf, a border river, in makeshift boats.
Reports of massacres and the systematic torching of villages by security forces - as well as by rebels - have further amplified tensions, raising fears that violence in Rakhine is spinning out of control.
The UN chief recalled that it was the government’s responsibility to provide security and allow aid agencies to reach those in need.
The army chief’s office on Friday gave the updated death toll, sketching out the details of an insurgency that has escalated sharply.
“Until August 30, a large number of terrorists carried out 52 waves of attacks on security forces.... in those attacks, 370 bodies of terrorists were found and nine others captured alive,” a statement posted on Facebook said.
Fifteen security forces and 14 civilians have also died in eight days of fighting, it added.
Erdogan says killings constitute genocide
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that the death of hundreds of Rohingya in Myanmar over the past week constituted a genocide aimed at Muslim communities in the region.
“There is a genocide there. They remain silent towards this... All those looking away from this genocide carried out under the veil of democracy are also part of this massacre,” Erdogan said at his ruling AK Party’s Eid al-adha celebrations in Istanbul.
He said it was Turkey’s moral responsibility to take a stand against the events in Myanmar.
Erdogan said the issue would be discussed in detail when world leaders convene for the United Nations General Assembly on September 12 in New York.
Scores of Rohingya killed
Rakhine has been facing religious violence since 2012, when riots erupted killing scores of Rohingya and forcing tens of thousands of people - the majority from the Muslim minority - into displacement camps.
The latest round of violence erupted last Friday when Rohingya militant allegedly swarmed remote police posts, killing 15 officials and burning villages.
Myanmar security forces have launched “clearance” operations to sweep out rebels whose ranks appear to be swelling as male Rohingya villagers join their cause.
Rights groups, who believe the true death toll is much higher, allege massacres of Rohingya in remote villages led by Myanmar security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist mobs.
The Rohingya represent roughly one million-strong community in Myanmar where they are accused of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Fortify Rights, an NGO with a focus on Myanmar, said eyewitnesses alleged mobs shot and hacked down Rohingya villagers - including children - in a five-hour “killing spree” in the village of Chut Pyin in Rathedaung township on Sunday afternoon.
Myanmar’s Information Committee appeared earlier this week to confirm a major security operation took place around the village on Sunday afternoon as a patrol clashed with scores of Rohingya militants.
But in a complex situation, further muddied by the swirl of claims and denials by both sides, more accounts emerged accusing Myanmar forces of killings and widespread abuse.
A 23-year-old Rohingya woman from Kyet Yoe Pyin said she had witnessed soldiers and Buddhist mobs rape and kill Muslims in her village over the weekend.
“They mercilessly slaughtered men, women and children,” she said.