COX'S BAZAR , Bangladesh, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Myanmar authorities have stepped up persecution of the Rohingya minority to include murder and the burning of villages, a United Nations official said.
About 1 million Rohingya people in Myanmar, Muslims in a Buddhist country, are seen by many citizens as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar's western neighbor. Although the Bangladeshi foreign ministry has said its policy is to discourage illegal entrants from crossing the border at the Naf River, which separates the countries, it has confirmed thousands have entered Bangladesh, and over 32,000 have registered in Bangladesh as refugees; the Myanmar military, meanwhile, is attempting to drive the Rohingya out with an ethnic cleansing drive.
John McKissick, chief of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in the area, told the BBC in the border town of Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, that after the murders of nine border guards, which some Myanmar politicians have blamed on a Rohingya militant group, the Myanmar military and Border Guard Police have "engaged in collective punishment of the Rohingya minority," which has included "killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses [and] forcing these people to cross the river" into Bangladesh.
"Now it's very difficult for the Bangladeshi government to say the border is open because this would further encourage the government of Myanmar to continue the atrocities and push them out until they have achieved their ultimate goal of ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority in Myanmar."
The activist group Human Rights Watch revealed satellite photographs indicating over 1,200 homes in Rohingya villages near the border have been razed in the past six weeks.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's most prominent government figure -- a State Councilor, former president and Nobel laureate -- has expressed concerns over the Rohingya's fate but has also accused them of violence; she is attempting to balance her reputation as a human rights activist with her country's growing tide of Buddhist nationalism, which has encouraged Myanmar's military and police to attempt to drive the ethnic Rohingya from the country.