YANGON — More than 27,000 Rohingya have fled violence in Myanmar in recent days, the United Nations has said, as corpses of people drowned in desperate attempts to cross the border river washed up on Bangladeshi soil Friday.
A further 20,000 have massed along the Bangladeshi frontier, the UN added in a statement late Thursday, but are barred from entry as they run from burning villages and Myanmar army operations.
Rumours of massacres and the systematic torching of villages by security forces — as well as by militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army — have further amplified tensions, raising fears that communal violence is spinning out of control.
Desperate to reach Bangladesh, thousands have taken to makeshift boats, some constructed from flotsam, in an effort to cross the Naf River which separates the two countries.
Sixteen bodies washed ashore on the Bangladeshi side of a river on Friday, a border official said, lifting the grim toll over the last two days from apparent boat capsizes to 39.
“They had been floating in the river for a while,” according to Mainuddin Khan, police chief of the border town of Teknaf, adding the dead included a young girl.
The latest round of a bitter and bloody five-year crisis began last Friday when Rohingya militants swarmed remote police posts, killing 11 state officials and burning villages.
Myanmar security forces have launched “clearance” operations to sweep out insurgents whose ranks appear to be swelling as male Rohingya villagers pick up sticks and knives and join their cause.
Thousands of ethnic Rakhine, Hindus and other local ethnic groups have also been displaced — the apparent targets of militants who are fighting under the ARSA banner.
An AFP reporter on a government-led trip to Maungdaw, this week saw columns of smoke rising from several burning villages, while terrified civilians huddled in schools in the main town.
International pressure is mounting on Myanmar.
The United States on Thursday urged Myanmar’s military to protect civilians, while Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, expressed fears that “grave violations” could take place.
“The worsening cycle of violence is of grave concern and must be broken urgently,” she added.
The ARSA emerged as a force in October last year when attacks killed Myanmar border police, prompting a crackdown by security forces that killed scores and forced 87,000 people to flee to Bangladesh.