At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed during a crackdown by Myanmar's security forces between August and September this year, according to a field study released Thursday by the international aid group Doctors Without Borders.
The number far exceeds the 400 people Myanmar's Ministry of Information said died after a militant Rohingya group attacked police posts on August 25, prompting a crackdown by Myanmar troops.
The ministry has blamed Rohingya militants for the violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state and labeled the 400 as "extreme terrorists” who died during military "clearance operations.”
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Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, said in a statement that it conducted the survey in Bangladesh refugee camps and estimated that at least 9,000 Rohingya had died of various causes in Rakhine state between August 25 and September 24.
MSF said 70 percent of the deaths were due to violence and the dead included 730 children below the age of five.
MSF said that among children below the age of 5, more than 59 percent who were killed in the month after August 25 were reportedly shot, 15 percent burnt to death in their homes, 7 percent beaten to death and 2 percent died due to landmine blasts.
More than 630,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the Buddhist-majority country to escape violence in Rakhine State, which the United Nations has called "ethnic cleansing."
"The peak in deaths coincides with the launch of the latest 'clearance operations' by Myanmar security forces in the last week of August," MSF medical director Sidney Wong said in a statement.
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Wong said the findings were staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member dead as a result of violence and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured.
"We heard reports of entire families who perished after they were locked inside their homes, while they were set alight," she said.
International aid and rights groups have accused the military of arson, killings and rapes of Rohingya villagers.
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More than 1 million ethnic Rohingya Muslims have lived in Myanmar for generations. They have been stripped of their citizenship, denied almost all rights and labeled stateless.
"The numbers of deaths are likely to be an underestimation as we have not surveyed all refugee settlements in Bangladesh and because the surveys don't account for the families who never made it out of Myanmar,” Wong said. "Currently people are still fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh and those who do manage to cross the border still report being subject to violence in recent weeks.”
law/sms (AP, Reuters)