GENEVA/YANGON • The top United Nations human rights official said Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi has promised to investigate UN allegations of atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.
Security forces and police have committed mass killings and gang rapes and burnt villages in northern Rakhine state, according to a UN investigation published on Friday.
"I called upon her to use every means available to exert pressure on the military and the security services to end this operation," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told Reuters on Friday. "She informed me that an investigation will be launched. She said that they would require further information."
In Yangon, presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said: "These are extremely serious allegations, and we are deeply concerned. We will be immediately investigating these allegations through the investigation commission led by Vice-President U Myint Swe. Where there is clear evidence of abuses and violations, we will take all necessary action."
Myanmar, a mostly Buddhist country, has previously denied almost all the allegations of human rights abuses and says a lawful counter-insurgency campaign is under way.
Since it began on Oct 9, about 69,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. The UN report was based on accounts gathered last month from 220 of them.
Witnesses testified to "the killing of babies, toddlers, children, women and elderly; opening fire at people fleeing; burning of entire villages; massive detention; massive and systematic rape and sexual violence; deliberate destruction of food and sources of food".
One woman described her baby's throat being slit. Another was raped by soldiers and saw her five-year-old daughter killed.
The UN report said the actions by security forces probably amounted to crimes against humanity.
Mr Zeid said the perpetrators of such "horrors" must be held to account. Possible avenues would be the establishment of an international commission of inquiry or the involvement of the International Criminal Court.
The report described gunfire and grenades being dropped on villages from helicopters, which probably killed hundreds. Nearly half of those interviewed said a family member had been killed or disappeared while 101 women reported having been raped or subjected to sexual violence.
Officials have so far denied observers and independent journalists access to the conflict area, while accusing Rohingya Muslims of fabricating stories.
In another development, a second suspect has been arrested over the murder of prominent Muslim lawyer Ko Ni. Aung Win Zaw, 46, was detained in Kayin State on Jan 30, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
Mr Ko Ni, a 63-year-old legal adviser to Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, was shot in the head outside Yangon's airport on Jan 29.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE