YANGON – The United Nations has called on Myanmar to investigate reports that dozens of men, women and children were killed in attacks on Rohingya Muslims with the alleged involvement of police.
The U.N. said it had received “credible information” of a series of attacks in a remote area of strife-torn Rakhine state earlier this month, in the latest statement of international concern over the fresh bout of unrest.
Myanmar, whose sweeping political reforms have been overshadowed by religious bloodshed, has vociferously denied civilians were killed but said a police officer was presumed dead after a clash.
“I deplore the loss of life in (the village of) Du Chee Yar Tan and call on the authorities to carry out a full, prompt and impartial investigation and ensure that victims and their families receive justice,” the U.N.’s human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said in the statement late Thursday.
The U.N. said it had information that eight Rohingya Muslim men were attacked and killed in the village, near the border with Bangladesh, by local Rakhine Buddhists on Jan. 9.
Four days later, a police sergeant in the same village was captured and killed by Rohingya.
This in turn prompted police and local Rakhine to kill at least 40 Rohingya Muslim men, women and children the same evening, the statement said, adding that the U.N. had passed on the information it had received to the Myanmar government.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut described the U.N. statement as “regrettable” and based on “groundless sources.”
“Because of these acts, mistrust and concern can increase in Rakhine state and trust in the U.N. organizations among local residents can decrease,” he said.
Myanmar’s western Rakhine state remains tense after several outbreaks of intercommunal violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities since 2012 that have killed scores and displaced 140,000 people, mainly from the Rohingya minority.
The area where the latest violence is believed to have taken place is mainly populated by the stateless Rohingya, whose movements are strictly controlled by a heavy security presence.
Aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), one of the few outside organizations permitted to operate in the region, said it had treated at least 22 patients with injuries believed to be from violence in the village on Jan. 14, mostly from knife wounds but also one gunshot victim.
Activists said shortly after the Jan. 13 attack that at least two women and a child were stabbed to death in the village, with possibly several dozen casualties.
Both the United States and Britain have raised alarm over the reports of the violence.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on his official Twitter account that he was “sickened” by reports that women and children had been killed.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had received information that police had authorized the arrest of all Rohingya men and boys over the age of 10 in the area.
It said Myanmar’s initial denial of civilian casualties suggested reports of unrest were “not being taken seriously.”
“Official discrimination against the Rohingya population and impunity for past abuses has created a fertile ground for new atrocities to take place,” said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.
Myanmar’s government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.
Two rounds of unrest in Rakhine state in June and October 2012, largely between local Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim minority, sparked religious unrest that has since spread across the country, leaving some 250 people dead.
Rakhine has been left almost completely segregated on religious and communal grounds by the unrest, with many thousands of Muslims living in squalid camps nearly two years after being displaced.
Thousands of Rohingya asylum seekers have fled Myanmar in rickety and overcrowded boats trying to reach Malaysia and farther afield, with scores dying at sea.
Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government has sought to emerge from decades of junta-imposed isolation, with sweeping political and economic reforms since taking power in 2011.
The country this month began its first international political role in decades as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.