The United Nations says over 40 Muslims were killed when a Buddhist mob stormed a village in an isolated corner of western Myanmar last week, hunting down residents with knives and machetes, officials told AP news agency.
A statement released on Thursday by Valerie Amos, the UN’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, was vague, only mentioning “alarming levels of violence, including the killings of many civilians and a policeman.”
But details about a UN investigation of the incident were presented in background briefings with US Embassy staff, humanitarian aid workers and others, the officials said on condition of anonymity because the information had not been officially released.
The officials told the Associated Press news agency that the investigation, including witness testimony and descriptions of the violence, indicated that the estimates of about 40 dead were conservative.
Myanmar’s government has denied reports of a massacre. Presidential spokesman, Ye Htut, said on Thursday that he “strongly objects” to the UN claims, calling them “totally wrong.”
The incident in Du Char Yar Tan, a village in Northern Rakhine state, appears to be the deadliest in a year, and would bring the total number killed nationwide in sectarian violence to more than 280, most of them Muslims.
An independent Thailand-based rights group, Fortify Rights, also said on Thursday that more than 40 were killed.
Security forces surrounded Du Char Yar Tan on January 14 after Rohingya Muslim residents allegedly abducted and killed a police sergeant, according to residents who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals.
Worried about retaliatory attacks, most of the men fled, and soldiers and police did nothing to stop a Buddhist mob that entered the village with knives and guns, attacking women, children and others left behind, they said.
The Myanmar government has repeatedly denied that any violence took place in the area, apart from the death of the police sergeant and an alleged attack by Rohingya Muslims on police.
There are around 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar. The UN has called them one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.