Myanmar allows observers to visit conflict-hit Rakhine


United Nations officials and international diplomats visited Myanmar's western Rakhine state during a government-sponsored trip on Monday to learn the situation on the ground first hand, according to a state official.

A total of 48 UN officials and foreign diplomats based in the commercial capital, Yangon, made the one-day visit to Maungdaw area of Rakhine state where more than 500,000 Rohingya villagers fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the military crackdown since late August.

"They arrived in state capital Sittwe first. Then we provided three military choppers to look around Maungdaw area today," Tin Maung Swe, spokesman of Rakhine regional government, said.

He said diplomats met some Rohingya villagers who did not flee and family members of non-Muslim victims who the government alleged had been killed by "Rohingya militants". Human rights campaigners from all over the world have often slammed the Myanmar government's repeated attempts to deflect the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by such claims.

"We hope this [visit of the officials] will help them understand the ground situation," Tin Maung Swe told Anadolu Agency by phone.

Since Aug. 25, 501,000 Rohingya have crossed from Myanmar's western state of Rakhine into Bangladesh, according to UN figures released on Sept. 28.

The refugees are fleeing a military operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages. According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.

Turkey has been at the forefront of providing aid to Rohingya refugees and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has raised the issue at the UN.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

Last October, following attacks on border posts in Rakhine's Maungdaw district, security forces launched a five-month crackdown in which, according to Rohingya groups, around 400 people were killed.

The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by security personnel. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.

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