The United Nations’ human rights office has said it fears that dozens of Rohingya civilians may have been killed in a military attack in Myanmar’s Rakhine state last week, despite official government tolls putting the number of dead at six.
“We are now receiving reports that the number may be much higher than that. We have unconfirmed reports that the number may be as high as 30,” said Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Tuesday.
On Friday, the the Myanmar army-run Myawady newspaper had said the six Rohingya killed and nine wounded in Wednesday’s aerial attack were “together with terrorists while the army was cracking down on the Arakan Army’s terrorist activities” in Buthidaung township, referring to an armed group that draws much of its recruits from the ethnic Rakhine population.
But Arakan Army spokesman Khin Thu Kha denied the dead and wounded men were members of the armed group, saying the military had attacked indiscriminately.
“They bombed everywhere, believing there were Arakan Army members in the jungle,” he was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.
Three villagers and a regional legislator had also told Reuters on Thursday that the men were collecting bamboo near the Sai Din waterfall when an army helicopter attacked.
“All of them were bamboo workers,” said Soe Tun Oo, a fellow labourer.
The western state was the epicentre of a brutal crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces in 2017 which forced about 730,000 Rohingya to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.
The UN has accused the army of “genocidal intent” in its campaign against the long-persecuted, majority-Muslim ethnic minority, which followed attacks by a Rohingya armed group on police posts in late August 2017.