KUALA LUMPUR (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) - At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims, including many children, were killed in the first month of violence that erupted in Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state in August, the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) aid group said on Thursday (Dec 14).
The medical charity said the first major survey on the scale of mortality was the "clearest indication yet of the widespread violence" that began on Aug 25, which has driven over 600,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh.
Based on interviews at refugee settlements in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar region, MSF estimated at least 6,700 Rohingya - including some 730 children below the age of five - were killed by violence between Aug 25 and Sept 24.
The charity, also known as Doctors without Borders, said the figures were "the most conservative" estimates.
"We met and spoke with survivors of violence in Myanmar, who are now sheltering in overcrowded and unsanitary camps in Bangladesh," MSF's medical director Sidney Wong said.
"What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured."
Gunshots were the cause of death in most cases. Others were beaten or burned to death in their houses.
"We heard reports of entire families who perished after they were locked inside their homes, while they were set alight,"Wong said in a statement.
Mainly Buddhist Myanmar denies atrocities against Rohingya, and said in September that nearly 400 people died in the fighting, mostly Rohingya insurgents.
A top United Nations human rights official said last week that Myanmar's security forces may be guilty of genocide against the Rohingya.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to cooperate on the repatriation of the displaced Rohingya but rights groups have cautioned against any hasty return before peace and stability is restored.
Responding to MSF's findings, the charity Save the Children said it was appalled by the loss of life.
"The international community must work to end the violence, bring perpetrators to justice and insist on immediate, full and unfettered humanitarian access to all people in need in Rakhine state," Bangladesh director Mark Pierce said in a statement.
"Violence against children cannot be tolerated and cannot remain unpunished."