More than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims are believed to have been killed in an ongoing army crackdown in western Myanmar (Burma), two senior UN officials said on Wednesday, just days after the release of an alarming human rights report.
The officials, who work for two separate UN agencies in Bangladesh where nearly 70,000 Rohingya have fled to in recent months, told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that they are concerned that the international community has not fully grasped the severity of the crisis.
The Myanma government launched a military crackdown in early October after armed assailants attacked three border security posts in Rakhine State. Access to the region is limited and Myanmar has so far failed to provide UN investigators with unfettered access to examine the worst-affected areas.
The government of Myanmar has put the official death toll at fewer than 100, but the UN officials have called this an underestimation, citing interviews with scores of refugees. "We could be looking at thousands (of dead)," one of the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Wednesday's news comes less than a week after the United Nations issued an alarming human rights report that documented allegations of killings, mass gang rape, beatings, disappearances, and other abuses that were allegedly carried out by members of Myanmar's security forces in a sealed-off area in Rakhine State.
One mother told investigators from the United Nations that her 5-year-old daughter was trying to protect her from rape when a man took out a long knife and slit the girl's throat, killing her. In another case, an 8-month-old baby was said to have been killed while his mother was being gang-raped by a group of 5 security officers.
The report also cited testimony that indicates that hundreds of Rohingya houses, schools, markets, shops, madrasas and mosques were burned by the army, police and sometimes civilian mobs. Witnesses also described the destruction of food and food sources, including paddy fields, and the confiscation of livestock.
"Numerous testimonies collected from people from different village tracts .. confirmed that the army deliberately set fire to houses with families inside, and in other cases pushed Rohingyas into already burning houses," the report said. "Testimonies were collected of several cases where the army or Rakhine villagers locked an entire family, including elderly and disabled people, inside a house and set it on fire, killing them all."
The UN report concluded that the violence against Rakhine's Rohingya Muslim minority "very likely" constitutes crimes against humanity. It is believed that the military operation - described as an "area clearance operation" by the government of Myanmar - is still ongoing, though it may have reduced in intensity.
"I and many others have been urging the authorities to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into these allegations," Adama Dieng, the UN's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said on Monday. "[The latest report] describes a level of dehumanization and cruelty that is revolting and unacceptable. This must stop right now!"
Rakhine is a conflict-ridden state in Myanmar where the Rohingya people are discriminated against and denied basic rights. Human rights organizations have reported that Rohingya people are subject to abuse and forced labor and they cannot travel, marry or practice their religion.
Both Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh reject the Rohingya people and do not recognize them as citizens, leaving them stateless.
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