UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday it is “an absolutely essential priority” to stop all violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, allow them to return to their homes, and grant them legal status.
The U.N. chief told reporters Friday that the U.N. is also insisting on “unhindered humanitarian access” to all areas of northern Rakhine state, where more than 600,000 Rohingya lived before fleeing to Bangladesh.
Guterres is leaving Friday night for Europe and Asia, where he will attend a joint summit between the U.N. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations which is certain to address the plight of the Rohingya. Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has faced growing international condemnation over violence against the Rohingya, is expected to attend the meeting in the Philippines from Nov. 10-14.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar doesn’t recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group, insisting they are Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country. It has denied them citizenship, leaving them stateless.
The latest violence began with a series of attacks Aug. 25 by Rohingya insurgents. Myanmar security forces responded with a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages that the U.N. and human rights groups have criticized as a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
“What has happened is an immense tragedy,” Guterres said, “and the levels of violence and the atrocities committed are something that we cannot be silent about.”