Antonio Guterres acknowledged that the mass displacement of Rohingya Muslims amounted to ethnic cleansing
UN Secretary-General urges end to Rohingya violence
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a halt to the military campaign in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and acknowledged that the mass displacement of Rohingya Muslims amounted to ethnic cleansing.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the UN chief called the situation for the Rohingya refugees "catastrophic" and "completely unacceptable".
In a press conference, Mr Guterres said: "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."
Asked if he agreed with UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein that what’s happening in Rakhine state is ethnic cleansing, Mr Guterres answered with a question. "When one-third of the Rohingya population has got to flee the country, can you find a better word to describe it?"
The Secretary-General said there were 125,000 refugees in Bangladesh last week when he urged an end to the violence. He added that the number has since tripled "to nearly 380,000".
He said that Myanmar's government must uphold the rule of law and recognise the right of Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh to return to their homes.
He also urged the international community to provide whatever assistance they could.
His comments came ahead of a closed-door UN Security Council meeting to discuss the deepening humanitarian crisis.
The council urged “immediate steps” to end the violence taking place, in a unanimous statement, and called for humanitarian aid workers to be able to reach those in need in Rakhine state.
Ethiopian Ambassador Tekeda Alemu, who holds the council presidency, told reporters after the meeting that council members "expressed concern about reports of excessive violence during the security operations and called for immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine".
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft added that it was the first time in nine years that the Security Council was able to agree on a common stance on Myanmar.
"We were united in our concern about the situation" after UN officials had briefed the council on "the catastrophe that is befalling Rakhine state and the Rohingya there," Mr Rycroft said.
The 1.1-million strong Rohingya have suffered years of discrimination in Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship even though many have longstanding roots in the country.
The country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticised by former supporters in the West for failing to do enough to prevent the violence in Rakhine state.
Prominent Nobel prize winners have also implored their fellow laureate to stand up to the Myanmar military, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said the suffering of the Rohingya could be seen on their faces after Ms Suu Kyi said the reports from the region were fake news.
Ms Suu Kyi has cancelled her trip to next week's UN General Assembly to address domestic security issues, her office said on Wednesday.
She is due to give her first speech on the situation in a televised address next week.