COX'S BAZAR • Doctors treating some of the 430,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh in recent weeks have seen dozens of women with injuries consistent with violent sexual attacks, UN clinicians and other health workers said.
The accounts, backed in some cases by medical notes, lend weight to repeated allegations, ranging from molestation to gang rape, levelled by women from the stateless minority group against Myanmar's armed forces.
Myanmar officials have mostly dismissed such allegations as militant propaganda designed to defame its military, which they say is engaged in legitimate counter-insurgency operations and under orders to protect civilians.
Mr Zaw Htay, spokesman for Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said the authorities would investigate any allegations brought to them. "Those rape-victim women should come to us," he said. "We will give full security to them. We will investigate and we will take action."
Ms Suu Kyi herself has not commented on the many allegations of sexual assault committed by the military against Rohingya women made public since late last year.
Violence erupted in Myanmar's north-western Rakhine state following attacks on security forces by Rohingya militants last October. More attacks on Aug 25 provoked a renewed military offensive that the UN has called "ethnic cleansing".
Eight health and protection workers in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district said they treated more than 25 individual rape cases in all since late last month. The medics said they did not attempt to establish definitively what happened to their patients, but have seen an unmistakable pattern in the stories and physical symptoms of dozens of women, who invariably say Myanmar soldiers were the perpetrators.
It is rare for United Nations doctors and aid agencies to speak about rape allegedly committed by a state's armed forces, given the sensitivity of the matter.
Doctors at a clinic run by the UN's International Organisation for Migration (IOM) at the Leda makeshift refugee camp say they treated hundreds of women with injuries they said were from violent sexual assaults during the army operation in October and November last year.
There have been fewer rapes reported among the influx of refugees since last month, said Dr Niranta Kumar, the Leda clinic's health coordinator, but those the clinic has seen have injuries suggesting "more aggressive" attacks on women.
Several health workers suggested that unlike last October, when many women initially remained in their villages believing the army sweeps were targeting only Rohingya men, this time, most fled at the first sign of military activity.
Doctors at the Leda clinic showed Reuters three case files, without divulging the identity of the patients. One said a 20-year-old woman was treated on Sept 10, seven days after she said she was raped by a soldier in Myanmar. According to handwritten notes, she said soldiers had "pulled her hair" and used a gun to beat her before raping her.
Examinations often find injuries suggesting forced penetration, beatings and even what looked like intentional cutting of the genitals, doctors said. "We found skin marks, it showed a very forceful attack, an inhuman attack," said IOM medical officer Tasnuba Nourin.
She had seen incidents of vaginal tearing, bite marks and signs that seemed to show a firearm was used to penetrate women, she said.
A report of the UN Secretary-General in April said sexual assaults were "apparently employed systematically to humiliate and terrorise" the Rohingya.