The United Nations Security Council says it’s deeply concerned about violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where about 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee to Bangladesh.
In a statement on Wednesday, the 15-member council “expressed concern about reports of excessive violence during the security operations and called for immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine, de-escalate the situation, re-establish law and order, ensure the protection of civilians”.
British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said it was the first time in nine years the council had agreed a statement on Myanmar. Earlier UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the humanitarian situation in Myanmar “catastrophic” and called on all countries to do what they could to supply aid.
Pressure has been mounting on Myanmar to end violence that has sent about 370,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, with the United States calling for protection of civilians and Bangladesh urging safe zones to enable refugees to go home.
Asked if the situation could be described as ethnic cleansing, Guterres replied: “Well I would answer your question with another question: When one-third of the Rohingya population had to flee the country, could you find a better word to describe it?”
The secretary-general also said he has spoken to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s national leader, several times.
Suu Kyi cancelled a trip to the upcoming UN General Assembly to deal with the crisis, her office said on Wednesday.
The government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, says its security forces are fighting Rohingya militants behind a surge of violence in Rakhine state that began on August 25, and they are doing all they can to avoid harming civilians.
The government says about 400 people have been killed in the fighting, the latest in the western state.
On Wednesday Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said 176 villages were abandoned and some residents had fled from at least 34 other villages.
Zaw Htay did not use the name Rohingya.
Members of the ethnic group are commonly referred to as “Bengalis” by many in Myanmar who insist they migrated illegally from Bangladesh.
Zaw Htay also said Myanmar would not allow all people who fled to return.
“We have to verify them. We can only accept them after they are verified.”