U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged Myanmar authorities to end violence against Rohingya Muslims, saying the situation there could best be described as ethnic cleansing.
“I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law and recognize the right of return of all those who had to leave the country,” Guterres told a news conference on Wednesday.
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?”
In a statement, the U.N. Security Council also “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 U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said it was the first time in nine years the council had agreed a statement on Myanmar.
Since last month, some 380,000 refugees have fled a security crackdown in Myanmar’s mainly Buddhist Rakhine State.
The humanitarian situation there is “catastrophic”, according to the U.N., which called on all countries to help supply aid.
Myanmar’s government say it’s targeting violent militants. But the exodus has flooded neighbouring Bangladesh.
Across the border, new villages have popped up: makeshift camps as far as the eye can see.
Myanmar’s national leader Aung San Suu Kyi canceled a trip to the upcoming U.N. General Assembly to deal with the crisis, her office said on Wednesday.
Guterres said he has spoken to Suu Kyi several times.
“This is a dramatic tragedy. People are dying and suffering at horrible numbers and we need to stop it. That is my main concern,” he said.
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 Aug. 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.
The U.N.‘s top human rights official earlier this week denounced Myanmar for conducting a “cruel military operation” against the Rohingya, branding it “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”