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Fri, 06 Oct 2017 14:40 - Updated Fri, 06 Oct 2017 14:40

U.N. fears "further exodus" of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar

GENEVA/YANGON - The United Nations braced on Friday for a possible “further exodus” of Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar into Bangladesh six weeks after the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency began, U.N. humanitarian aid chief said.

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Some 515,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine in an unrelenting movement of people that began after Myanmar security forces responded to Rohingya militant attacks with a brutal crackdown.

The United Nations has denounced the Myanmar military offensive as ethnic cleansing but Myanmar insists its forces are fighting “terrorists” who have killed civilians and burnt villages.

Rights groups say more than half of more than 400 Rohingya villages in the north of Rakhine state have been torched in a campaign by the security forces and Buddhist vigilantes to drive out Muslims.

Mark Lowcock, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, reiterated an appeal for access to the population in northern Rakhine, saying the situation was “unacceptable”.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has blocked most access to the area, although some agencies have offices open in towns there and the International Committee of the Red Cross is helping the Myanmar Red Cross to deliver aid.

“This flow of people of Myanmar hasn’t stopped yet. Obviously there’s into the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya still in Myanmar, and we want to be ready in case there is a further exodus,” Lowcock told a news briefing in Geneva.

Lowcock said a senior U.N. official was expected to visit Myanmar in the next few days.

An estimated 2,000 Rohingya are arriving in Bangladesh every day, Joel Millman of the International Organization for Migration, told a separate briefing.

Myanmar officials have said they attempted to reassure groups trying to flee to Bangladesh but could not stop people who were not citizens from leaving.

The official Myanmar News Agency said on Friday “large numbers” of Muslims were preparing to cross the border. It cited their reasons as “livelihood difficulties”, health problems, a “belief” of insecurity and fear of becoming a minority. Reuters

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