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Amid ‘humanitarian and human rights nightmare’ in Myanmar, UN secretary-general António Guterres on Thursday urged full aid access, safe return of displaced Rohingya, and end to military operations.

Amid an escalating crisis in northern Rakhine state in Myanmar, United Nations secretary-general urged its government to end military operations, allow unfettered access to those in need, and ensure the safe and voluntary return of displaced Rohingya to their homes, said a UN release appeared on its website.

“The situation has spiralled into the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare,” said the UN secretary general while briefing the 15-member Security Council on Thursday.

“Since 25 August, at least 500,000 civilians had fled their homes and sought safety in Bangladesh, he said, adding that Myanmar authorities themselves had indicated that at least 176 of 471 Muslim villages in northern Rakhine had been totally abandoned,” read the release.

Elsewhere too, most of the abandoned villages were majority Muslim. There seemed to be a deeply disturbing pattern to the violence and ensuing large movements of an ethnic group from their homes, he said, warning that such systemic violence risked spilling over into central Rakhine, where an additional 250,000 Muslims could face displacement.

“The devastating humanitarian situation was not only a breeding ground for radicalization, it also put vulnerable people – including young children – at risk of criminal elements, including trafficking,” he continued.

Read more: Guterres calls for end to Rohingya ‘nightmare’

“We have received bone-chilling accounts from those who fled – mainly women, children and the elderly,” he added.

Testimonials pointed to excessive violence and serious violations of human rights, including indiscriminate firing of weapons, the use of landmines against civilians and sexual violence.

The Myanmar authorities must fulfil their fundamental obligation of ensuring the safety and security of all communities and upholding the rule of law without discrimination, he stressed. United Nations agencies and non-governmental partners must be granted immediate and safe access to all affected communities, he said, expressing concern about the current climate of antagonism towards the United Nations. “Given the enormous needs, this position is deeply regrettable.”

The Rohingya had the right to a safe and voluntary return to their homes, he stressed.

While the 1993 Joint Statement of the foreign ministers of Bangladesh and Myanmar was a good starting point in facilitating the return, it was not sufficient as it did not refer to resolving the root cause of displacement and required documents to prove residency that the fleeing Rohingya may not be able to provide. He also stressed that the displaced must not be relocated yet again to camp-like conditions.

Emphasizing the role of the advisory commission on Rakhine State as a blueprint for the longer-term issues, he stressed that the Muslims of Rakhine must be granted nationality.

All others must be able to obtain a legal status that allowed them freedom of movement and access to labour markets, education and health services.

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