The United Nations’ top human rights official on Monday slammed Myanmar for conducting a “cruel military operation” against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, branding it “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein’s comments to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva came as the official tally of Rohingya who have fled Myanmar and crossed into southern Bangladesh in just over two weeks soared through 300,000.
The surge of refugees - many sick or wounded - has strained the resources of aid agencies already helping hundreds of thousands from previous spasms of bloodletting in Myanmar.
“We have received multiple reports and satellite imagery of security forces and local militia burning Rohingya villages, and consistent accounts of extrajudicial killings, including shooting fleeing civilians,” Zeid said.
“I call on the government to end its current cruel military operation, with accountability for all violations that have occurred, and to reverse the pattern of severe and widespread discrimination against the Rohingya population,” he added.
“The situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants on police posts and an army base in the northwestern state of Rakhine on Aug. 25 provoked a military counter-offensive.
Myanmar says its security forces are carrying out clearance operations to defend against ARSA, which the government has declared a terrorist organization.
Myanmar on Sunday rebuffed a ceasefire declared by ARSA to enable the delivery of aid to thousands of displaced and hungry people in the north of Rakhine state, declaring simply that it did not negotiate with terrorists.
Complete denial of reality
Human rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya accuse the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes of mounting a campaign of arson aimed at driving out the Rohingya.
The government of Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country where the roughly one million Muslim Rohingya are marginalized, has repeatedly rejected charges of “ethnic cleansing”.
Officials have blamed insurgents and Rohingya themselves for burning villages to draw global attention to their cause.
Zeid said Myanmar should “stop pretending” that Rohingya were torching their own houses and its “complete denial of reality” was damaging the government’s international standing.
Western critics have accused Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi of failing to speak out for the Rohingya, who are despised by many in the country as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
Some have called for the Nobel Peace Prize Suu Kyi won in 1991 as a champion of democracy to be revoked.
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