COX'S BAZAR (Bangladesh) • Rape is being used as a weapon of war in the Rohingya crisis, with no woman safe from the risk of sexual attack as Myanmar's Muslim minority is driven out of its homeland, say experts in the field and those caught up in the crisis.
Doctors treating some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar in recent weeks have seen dozens of women with injuries consistent with violent sexual attacks, according to UN clinicians.
And women interviewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation tell of violent rape by Myanmar security forces as they fled their homes, part of a mass Rohingya exodus.
"The Burmese (Myanmar) military has clearly used rape as one of a range of horrific methods of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," said Ms Skye Wheeler, a sexual violence expert with Human Rights Watch who has assessed the fast-filling camps.
"Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been widespread and systematic as well as brutal, humiliating and traumatic," she said.
Myanmar dismisses all such accusations of ethnic-cleansing, saying it has to tackle insurgents whom it accuses of starting fires and attacking civilians as well as the security forces.
Yet villagers fleeing the violence say rape is a routine weapon in the military's armoury, with the United Nations now deliberating whether the violence amounts to genocide.
USING SEX TO HURT
The Burmese (Myanmar) military has clearly used rape as one of a range of horrific methods of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.
MS SKYE WHEELER, a sexual violence expert with Human Rights Watch.
Whatever the legal definition, 18-year-old Nurshida knows only too well what happened to her.
Speaking from the relative safety of her camp, Ms Nurshida recalled how her class of 30 was marched in silence to their school last month, held at gunpoint by uniformed soldiers, then manhandled into the main auditorium.
The schoolgirls, she said, cowered as one in a corner; the men - breathing heavily and dripping sweat - occupied another.
The gang rape began immediately. Fair-skinned Nurshida, with bangles looping her wrist and a loose scarf shrouding her hair, said she was chosen first by the group of six clean-shaven soldiers carrying guns and machetes.
The authorities say her story fits a horribly familiar pattern. "The stories we hear point to rape being used strategically as a weapon of war," said Lt Col Rashed Hasan of the Bangladesh army.
Women of all ages and backgrounds have reported similarly brutal sexual assaults - as well as witnessing family killings, losing children and being forced from their homes.
"Rape is an act of power. It knows no discrimination in terms of age, sex or ethnicity," said Ms Saba Zariv of the United Nations Population Fund.