Myanmar's "ethnic cleansing" of Rohingya Muslims is continuing, a senior United Nations human rights official said on Tuesday, more than six months after insurgent attacks sparked a security response that has driven almost 700,000 people into Bangladesh.
Myanmar's military on Wednesday denied "one-sided accusations" made by British lawmakers in a letter to the EU Foreign Affairs Council recently detailing major human rights abuses against minority Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.
The repatriation deal signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh in November would likely fail despite his government's official stance that the refugees must eventually go back, he continued. The UN envoy said it was "inconceivable" for any Rohingya to return to Rakhine state in the near future in a "safe, dignified and sustainable" way.
Almost 700,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine into Bangladesh since insurgent attacks sparked a security crackdown in August, joining 200,000 refugees from a previous exodus.
Rakhine state has seethed with ethnic hatreds for years, with the persecution of the Rohingya minority culminating in a ruthless army campaign against them that started last August and sparked a mass exodus.
Gilmour said the rate of killings and sexual violence in Rakhine has subsided since August and September past year, but "It appears that widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya persists".
"It appears that widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya persists, " Gilmour said after visiting refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said he had not seen the United Nations statement published on Tuesday, but that Myanmar was not committing ethnic cleansing. But Gilmour said the authorities should first stop the ongoing violence.
There was no immediate comment by the Myanmar government.
Gilmour added that new arrivals to refugee camps are travelling from interior Rakhine towns further from the border.
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, has expressed its concern over the situation. People who have fled violence in their country must be granted safety and protection and any decision to return must be voluntary and based upon a free and informed choice. "UNHCR underscores that everyone has the right to seek asylum, just as they also have the right to return home when they deem the time and circumstances right", it said in a statement late on Monday. Myanmar's Buddhist majority is often accused of subjecting them to discrimination and violence.
"Tragically 10 refugees have been killed by frightened elephants inside the settlements". During the reporting of this article, two Reuters journalists were arrested by Myanmar police. Reuters uncovered the massacre and has pieced together how it unfolded.