YANGON • UN chief Antonio Guterres has, in a rare letter to the Security Council, warned of the risk of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar that could destabilise the wider region.
But Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared to dismiss the dire warning in her first public comments about the exodus of Rohingya Muslims, most of whom are fleeing a massive security sweep in western Rakhine state by government forces following a series of deadly ambushes by Rohingya militants on security posts on Aug 25.
Saying that terrorism was new in her country, she said sympathy for the Rohingya was being generated by "a huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different communities and with the aim of promoting the interest of the terrorists".
The comments were in a statement following a call with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has been particularly critical of Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya, dubbing it a "genocide".
Ms Suu Kyi defended her government's actions, saying her administration was "defending all the people" in Rakhine state, but made no mention of the current exodus of Rohingya. She referred to images on Twitter of killings posted by Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister that he later deleted because they were not from Myanmar.
"That kind of fake information... was simply the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different communities and with the aim of promoting the interests of the terrorists," said the statement.
ALL EFFORTS NEEDED
I appeal to all, all authorities in Myanmar, civilian authorities and military authorities, to indeed put an end to this violence that, in my opinion, is creating a situation that can destabilise the region.
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES
In his letter on Tuesday, Mr Guterres urged the 15-member Security Council to press for restraint and calm in Myanmar, while expressing concern that the violence could spiral into a "humanitarian catastrophe with implications for peace and security that could continue to expand beyond Myanmar's borders".
Asked if the violence could be described as ethnic cleansing, Mr Guterres said: "We are facing a risk. I hope we don't get there."
"I appeal to all... to indeed put an end to this violence that, in my opinion, is creating a situation that can destabilise the region," he added.
Under the rarely used Article 99 of the United Nations Charter, Mr Guterres can "bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security".
He also said the world community "has a responsibility to undertake concerted efforts to prevent further escalation of the crisis".
Meanwhile, Myanmar's National Security Adviser Thaung Tun told a news conference yesterday in the capital, Naypyitaw, that the country was counting on China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, to block any UN resolution on the crisis.
"China is our friend and we have a similar friendly relationship with Russia so it will not be possible for that issue to go forward," he said.
Myanmar's Rohingya are the world's largest stateless minority and have lived under apartheid-like restrictions on their movement and citizenship for years. In October, a new militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a series of deadly ambushes on border police, prompting a massive army-led crackdown.
More than 200,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since then. That includes 146,000 in the past two weeks, piling huge pressure on a poor neighbour that already hosted 400,000 Rohingya who had fled over the past four decades.
"The number is growing every day," UNHCR spokesman Vivian Tan has said.
Bangladesh lodged a protest yesterday after it said Myanmar had laid landmines near their border.
The crisis has led to growing outrage in the Muslim world, with Egypt and the Arab League the latest in a list of countries and organisations condemning the violence against the Rohingya.
Ms Suu Kyi herself has been criticised, with calls for the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991 as a champion of democracy to be revoked.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE