TEKNAF (Bangladesh) • Myanmar is carrying out "ethnic cleansing" of Rohingya Muslims, a United Nations official has reportedly said, as horrifying stories of gang rape, torture and murder emerge from among the thousands who have fled to Bangladesh.
Up to 30,000 of the impoverished ethnic group have abandoned their homes in Myanmar to escape the unfolding violence, the UN says, after troops poured into the narrow strip where they lived earlier this month.
Mr John McKissick, head of the United Nations refugee agency in the Bangladeshi border town of Cox's Bazar, told the BBC that troops were "killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river" into Bangladesh.
Dhaka has resisted urgent international appeals to open its border to avert a humanitarian crisis, instead telling Myanmar it must do more to prevent the stateless Rohingya minority from entering.
"It's very difficult for the Bangladeshi government to say the border is open because this would further encourage the government of Myanmar to continue the atrocities and push them out until they have achieved their ultimate goal of ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority in Myanmar," Mr McKissick said.
A spokesman for Myanmar President Htin Kyaw slammed the comments. "I would like to question the professionalism and ethics which should be followed and respected by UN staff."
Mr Zaw Htay told Agence France-Presse: "He should speak based on concrete and true facts, he should not make accusations."
It is not the first time such claims have been made against Myanmar. In April 2013, Human Rights Watch said the country was conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya - an accusation rejected by then President Thein Sein as a "smear campaign". But the scale of human suffering was becoming clear on Thursday as desperate people like Mr Mohammad Ayaz told how troops attacked his village .
Cradling his two-year-old son, he said troops killed at least 300 men in the village market and gang- raped dozens of women before setting fire to around 300 houses, Muslim-owned shops and the mosque where he served as imam.
"They shot dead my wife, Jannatun Naim. She was 25 and seven months pregnant. I took refuge at a canal with my two-year-old son, who was hit by a rifle butt," he said.
Mr Ayaz sold his watch and shoes to pay for the journey and has taken shelter at a camp for unregistered Rohingya refugees.The Rohingya are loathed by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, who see them as illegal immigrants and call them "Bengali", even though they have lived there for generations.