UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres speaks during
a news conference at the UN on Wednesday
Aung San Suu Kyi. (Reuters)
United Nations, Sept. 13 (Reuters): UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres today called on authorities in Myanmar to end violence against the majority-Buddhist country's Rohingya Muslims and acknowledged the situation there is best described as ethnic cleansing.
The humanitarian situation in Myanmar was "catastrophic", Guterres said, and called on all countries to do what they could to supply aid.
"I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law and recognise the right of return of all those who had to leave the country," Guterres said at a news conference.
Pressure has been mounting on Myanmar to end violence that has sent about 370,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, with the US calling for protection of civilians and Bangladesh urging safe zones to enable refugees to go home.
Asked if the situation could be described as ethnic cleansing, Guterres replied: "Well I would answer your question with another question: When one-third of the Rohingya population had to flee the country, could you find a better word to describe it?"
The secretary-general also said he has spoken to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's national leader, several times.
"This is a dramatic tragedy. People are dying and suffering at horrible numbers and we need to stop it. That is my main concern," he said.
Suu Kyi cancelled a trip to the upcoming UN General Assembly to deal with the crisis, her office said today.
The UN Security Council is to meet behind closed doors for the second time since the crisis erupted.
British UN ambassador Matthew Rycroft said he hoped there would be a public statement agreed by the council.
The government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, says its security forces are fighting Rohingya militants behind a surge of violence in Rakhine state that began on August 25, and they are doing all they can to avoid harming civilians.
The government says about 400 people have been killed in the fighting, the latest in the western state.
The UN's top human rights official earlier this week denounced Myanmar for conducting a "cruel military operation" against the Rohingya, branding it "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing".
Myanmar's military, which ruled for almost 50 years until it began a transition to democracy in 2011, retains significant political powers and has full control of security. Nevertheless, critics say Suu Kyi could speak out against the violence and demand respect for the rule of law.
But anti-Rohingya sentiment is common in Myanmar.