TEHRAN (Press Shia) – Myanmar’s “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims is continuing, a senior UN human rights official said on Tuesday, more than six months after insurgent attacks sparked a security response that has driven nearly 700,000 people into Bangladesh.
Andrew Gilmour, the UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, made the comment after a four-day visit to the Cox’s Bazar district in neighboring Bangladesh, where he met people who have fled from Myanmar recently.
“I don’t think we can draw any other conclusion from what I have seen and heard in Cox’s Bazar,” Gilmour said in a statement, Reuters reported.
Gilmour spoke to refugees who recounted abductions by security forces and at least one apparent death of a Rohingya man in custody in February, the statement said.
“It appears that widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya persists,” Gilmour said.
“The nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied blood-letting and mass rape of last year to a lower intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation that seems to be designed to drive the remaining Rohingya from their homes and into Bangladesh.”
Despite Myanmar saying it was ready to accept back refugees under a pact signed with Bangladesh in November, he added, “Safe, dignified and sustainable returns are, of course, impossible under current conditions”.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said he had not seen the UN statement published on Tuesday, but that Myanmar was not committing ethnic cleansing.
“We don’t drive out the refugees,” he claimed.
Separately, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was concerned about people living just inside Myanmar at its border with Bangladesh.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is monitoring developments after several thousand people living in a makeshift camp “were reportedly ordered to vacate the area by the Myanmar authorities”, the agency said.
Residents of what is called "no-man’s land”, as it sits outside Myanmar’s border fence but on its side of a creek that separates the two countries, say Myanmar officials have warned them on loudspeakers that their presence on the border line is illegal.
“UNHCR underscores that everyone has the right to seek asylum, just as they also have the right to return home when they deem the time and circumstances right,” it said in a statement late on Monday.
“People who have fled violence in their country must be granted safety and protection and any decision to return must be voluntary and based upon a free and informed choice.”
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar after its military launched a bloody campaign against residents of villages across the northern parts of Rakhine State following a number of attacks on security checkpoints on August 25.
Fleeing the brutal campaign of indiscriminate killings and arson attacks, the Muslim refugees sought sanctuary in neighboring Bangladesh.