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United Nations Secretary General António Guterres on Wednesday, September 13 described the humanitarian situation in Myanmar as “catastrophic” and called on the government to suspend military action and end violence in Rakhine state.

“I have condemned the attacks made by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in Rakhine State, but there have been disturbing reports of attacks by security forces against civilians, which are completely unacceptable,” Guterres said. “I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law, and recognize the right of return of all those who had to leave the country.”

Violence in Myanmar flared on August 25 when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militant group attacked 30 police outposts in Rakhine state, sparking a government crackdown and widespread violence. Since then, more than 370,000 Rohingya people have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Guterres said that humanitarian work by both UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations has been severely disrupted. He urged the government to “ensure the delivery of vital humanitarian aid.”

Guterres repeated his call for an effective plan to address the causes of the crisis. “The Muslims of Rakhine State must be granted nationality or, at least for now, a legal status that allows them to lead a normal life, including freedom of movement and access to labour markets, education and health services,” Guterres said.

Asked if there ethnic cleansing is ocurring in Myanmar, Guterres said: “When one‑third of the Rohingya population had to flee the country, can you find a better word to describe it?”

Earlier, Myanmar government spokesperson Zaw Htay reiterated that people who fled will not automatically be allowed to return, the Associated Press reported. “We have to verify them. We can only accept them after they are verified,” he said.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday said that Myanmar’s stance that Rohingya refugees can only return if they provide proof of nationality resembled a “cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return.”

Zeid explained that since 1962, governments have “progressively stripped the Rohingya population of their political and civil rights, including citizenship rights – as acknowledged by Aung San Suu Kyi’s own appointed Rakhine Advisory Commission.”

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