Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have struck out from their homes for the Bangladesh border in an attempt to escape the worsening crisis in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state.
Myanmar’s government and advocates for the country’s Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority traded charges Sunday of killing civilians, burning down buildings and planting land mines, as clashes that began last week when insurgents launched attacks against police posts continued.
An announcement posted online by the office of the country’s leader, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, said the death toll from the violence that started Thursday night had reached 96, mostly alleged Rohingya attackers but also 12 security personnel.
The announcement was the first by the government to list civilians among the dead – six people identified as Hindu said to have been killed by the insurgents.
Myanmar’s security forces have committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims and burned down villages since October in a campaign that likely amounts to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing, according to the United Nations.
“The ‘area clearance operations’ have likely resulted in hundreds of deaths,” a report from the UN’s human rights office said, referring to a military crackdown launched in the wake of an attack on a military post.
Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said that Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi promised on Friday to investigate the allegations.
“She informed me that an investigation will be launched. She said that they would require further information,” he said.
The report, which was based on interviews with 204 Rohingya refugees who fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, recounted gruesome violations allegedly carried out by members of Myanmar’s security services or civilian fighters working alongside the army and the police.
Of the 101 women interviewed, more than half said they had been raped or sexually assaulted.
According to the Associated Press, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in Washington that as security forces act to prevent further violence and bring the perpetrators to justice, they should respect the rule of law and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
She said the attacks underscored the importance of the government implementing recommendations of a commission chaired by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, which published its final report on Thursday recommending that the government act quickly to improve economic development and social justice in Rakhine state to resolve violence between Buddhists and the Rohingya.
The Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination and were the targets of violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remain.
According to the United Nations, more than 80,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since last October’s clashes.