YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s government on Friday rejected accusations by minority Rohingya Muslims that the military has killed residents fleeing the conflict in the northwest of the country, in which at least 86 people have been killed so far and up to 30,000 displaced.
Hundreds of Rohingya are trying to escape the military crackdown after a recent escalation in violence in Rakhine State, residents have told Reuters, adding that some of them have been gunned down while attempting to cross the river that marks the frontier with Bangladesh.
The information taskforce on Rakhine, formed this week by the office of de facto Myanmar leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has rejected the allegations against the military, known as the “Tatmadaw” in the Burmese language.
“Regarding those incidents, after asking the Tatmadaw and border guard troops in those regions, it is known that the information is absolutely not true,” said the State Counsellor Office Information Committee in a Facebook post.
The office added that the military and the border guard troops had not conducted operations near the border and were only engaged in an “area clearance operation” in the “inner part” of the state.
Soldiers have poured into the north of Rakhine along Myanmar’s frontier with Bangladesh, responding to attacks by alleged Muslim militants on border posts on Oct. 9.
They have locked down the district, where the vast majority of residents are Rohingya, shutting out aid workers and independent observers.
A senior Bangladeshi official said its border guard force on Friday turned back 82 Rohingya Muslims, including women and children, attempting to leave Myanmar. This came after two boats with 86 people were pushed back on Tuesday.
Lieutenant Colonel Anwarul Azim, commanding officer of the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) in the Cox’s Bazar sector said those turned away had been provided with food and medicines.
The United Nations stressed the border should be kept open.
“It is essential that the border is kept open for people fleeing violence at the moment,” said the U.N. refugee agency spokesman, Adrian Edwards, at a briefing in Geneva on Friday.
Sixty-nine suspected insurgents and 17 members of the security forces have been killed, according to official reports, since the violence began last month.
Residents and rights advocates have accused security forces of summary executions, rape and setting fire to homes. The government and army have rejected the accusations.
The U.N. envoy on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, criticized Suu Kyi’s handling of the crisis and renewed her appeal to investigate the allegations of abuses.
“State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has recently stated that the government is responding to the situation based on the principle of the rule of law. Yet I am unaware of any efforts on the part of the government to look into the allegations of human rights violations,” Lee said in a statement on Friday.
“It would appear, on the contrary, that the government has mostly responded with a blanket denial,” said Lee, adding the security forces “must not be given carte blanche to step up their operations”.
Up to 30,000 people are now estimated to be displaced and thousands more affected by the Oct. 9 attacks and the following security operation, said Pierre Peron, the spokesman of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar.
“This includes as many as 15,000 people who, according to unverified information, may have been displaced after clashes between armed actors and the military on 12-13 November,” said Peron.
He added that humanitarian operations that had been providing food, cash, and nutrition to more than 150,000 vulnerable people have been suspended for 40 days.
More than 3,000 children have not received their regular treatment for severe acute malnutrition (SAM).
“Without appropriate treatment and care, many children with SAM are at risk of dying,” said Peron.
(Story corrects day when Bangladesh turned back 86 Rohingya to Tuesday from Wednesday in paragraph 8; fixes typos in paragraphs 2 & 3)
Additional reporting by Mohammad Nurul Islam in COX'S BAZAR and Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA; Editing by Alex Richardson