Rohingya refugees, who arrived from Myanmar on Sunday night, walk in a rice field after crossing the border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh, on Monday. Picture: REUTERS
Rohingya refugees, who arrived from Myanmar on Sunday night, walk in a rice field after crossing the border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh, on Monday. Picture: REUTERS

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh — Thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar fled to Bangladesh on Monday, driven by fears of starvation and violence.

The UN has denounced the violence as ethnic cleansing.

About 519,000 Rohingya have crossed the border since August 25, when attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts in Rakhine state sparked a ferocious military response.

The EU is proposing shunning contact with Myanmar’s top generals as a first step towards new targeted sanctions to punish the military for the violence, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

Reuters reporters on the Bangladeshi side of the border, in Palong Khali district, saw several thousand people crossing from northern Rakhine on Monday. "Half of my village was burnt down. I saw them do it," said Sayed Azin. He had walked for eight days carrying his 80-year-old mother in a basket strung on a bamboo pole between him and his son.

Soldiers and Buddhist mobs had torched his village, he said.

"I left everything," he said, sobbing. "I can’t find my relatives … I can’t take this any more."

Some new arrivals spoke of bloody attacks by Buddhist mobs on people trekking towards the border.

Refugees and rights groups say the army and Buddhist vigilantes have engaged in killing and arson aimed at driving the Rohingya out of Myanmar.

Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing and has labelled militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army who launched the initial attacks as terrorists.

Among those fleeing were up to 35 people on a boat that capsized off the Bangladeshi coast on Sunday. At least 12 of them drowned, while 13 were rescued, Bangladeshi police said.

"We faced so many difficulties, for food and survival," Sayed Hossein said, adding that his wife, three children, mother and father-in-law had drowned. "We came here to save our lives."

Myanmar leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced international criticism for not doing more to stop the violence, but she has no power over the security forces.

The US and EU were considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar military leaders, diplomats and officials said.

But they are wary of action that could destabilise the country’s transition to democracy.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the situation in Myanmar on October 16. Their draft joint statement said the bloc "will suspend invitations to the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar/Burma armed forces and other senior military officers".

The Myanmar government has said its "clearance operations" against the militants ended in early September. But in recent days the government has reported large numbers of Muslims preparing to leave.

Some villagers in Rakhine said food was running out because rice in the fields was not ready for harvest and the state government had closed village markets.

Reuters

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