COX’s BAZAR, Sept 2 — UN chief Antonio Guterres warned yesterday of a looming humanitarian catastrophe in western Myanmar and urged security forces to show restraint after hundreds were reported dead in communal violence and thousands continued to flee.
It is the bloodiest chapter yet in a bitter five-year crisis that has torn apart Rakhine state along ethnic and religious lines, displaced the region’s Rohingya community in huge numbers and heaped international condemnation on Myanmar’s army and the government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Around 400 people — most of them Rohingya Muslims — have died in the violence, according to the army chief’s office Friday, while 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, while 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 militants — have further amplified tensions, raising fears that violence in Rakhine is spinning out of control.
“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,” said a UN spokesman.
Guterres 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.
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