Myanmar's "ethnic cleansing" of Rohingya Muslims is continuing, a senior United Nations human rights official said on Tuesday, more than six months after insurgent attacks sparked a security response that has driven almost 700,000 people into Bangladesh.
The United Nations human rights chief accused on Wednesday Myanmar authorities of deliberately attempting to "destroy evidence of potential worldwide crimes, including possible crimes against humanity".
There are credible accounts of widespread human rights abuses, including rape, the torching of homes and killings, carried out against the Rohingya, leading to accusations that Myanmar is guilty of "ethnic cleansing", or even genocide.
"The nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied bloodletting and mass rape of a year ago to a lower-intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation that seems to be created to drive the remaining Rohingya from their homes and into Bangladesh", he said in a statement, adding that new arrivals are travelling from towns in Rakhine's interior further from the border.
The Myanmar military has denied claims of abuses, but in January recognised the extrajudicial killings of Rohingya in September 2017.
Around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh since August, when Myanmar security forces began sweeps though Rakhine state following Rohingya insurgent attacks.
A man walks between a rice field and the shacks of Rohingya refugees living on the land of Bangladeshi farmer Jorina Katun near the Kutapalong refugee camp in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh February 9, 2018.
Gilmour said the rate of killings and sexual violence in Rakhine has subsided since August and September previous year, but "It appears that widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya persists".
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Myanmar's government spokesman did not answer repeated calls for comment on Gilmour's statement.
"I do not believe the Rohingya can be sent back", Muhith, an outspoken minister from the ruling party, told reporters late Tuesday in Dhaka after meeting with a British charity. "The first reason is that Burma will only take a few and secondly is that the refugees will never return if they fear persecution", he added, using another name for Myanmar.
But the plan has courted controversy from the outset.
But rights groups and the United Nations have warned that conditions for their return are not close to being in place.
The UN expert also questioned how the Myanmar government could say that it was ready for the return of the Rohingya refugees while atrocities committed against them continued, and argued that "safe, dignified and sustainable returns are of course impossible under current conditions".
But the process stalled, with Myanmar and Bangladesh blaming the other for a lack of preparedness for the huge undertaking.
"They (Myanmar) are absolute evil", he added.