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Myanmar postpones UN visit to Rakhine due to 'bad weather'

Myanmar postpones UN visit to Rakhine due to 'bad weather'

A UN visit to Myanmar's conflict-battered Rakhine state was postponed on Thursday, thwarting efforts to reach the epicentre of violence for the first time since the start of a massive exodus of minority Rohingya Muslims.

The United Nations has urged Myanmar to allow humanitarian access to northern parts of Rakhine state since violence erupted in late August, forcing around 480,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee.

On Wednesday the UN said it had been told its representatives could join a government-steered trip to the area on Thursday — but the visit did not take place.

“The government-organised visit was postponed to next week because of weather conditions,” a spokesman from the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar said, without giving further details.

Access to the area by relief agencies and global media has been heavily controlled by Myanmar's army and government, making it impossible to independently assess the humanitarian situation or allegations of widespread abuse.

Rohingya refugees who have made it to Bangladesh have brought with them multiple accounts of murder and systematic arson of their villages by Myanmar soldiers and mobs of ethnic Rakhine, who are Buddhists.

International aid groups fear tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who remain in northern parts of Rakhine are in urgent need of food, medicine and shelter after over a month of military operations.

But foreign aid agencies are receiving hostility across Myanmar — and inside Rakhine in particular — accused by many in the Buddhist-majority country of harbouring a pro-Rohingya bias.

Myanmar had around 1.1 million Rohingya before August 25 attacks by militants from the minority group sparked a massive security crackdown.

The number has halved since then.

Rakhine has long been a cauldron of ethnic and religious tensions, but the last five years has seen communal relations plunge to their worst yet.

The UN Security Council is due to meet on the crisis later on Thursday.

At least 10 children and four women were killed when a boat carrying Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar capsized in rough seas off Bangladesh on Thursday, police said.

Witnesses and survivors said the boat overturned just yards from the coast after apparently hitting a submerged object and was later washed ashore in two parts.

“They drowned before our eyes. Minutes later, the waves washed the bodies to the beach,” said Mohammad Sohel, a local shopkeeper.

One distraught survivor said he had set off for Bangladesh from a coastal village in Myanmar late Wednesday with his wife, who was killed in the disaster along with one of his children.

“The boat hit something underground as it came close to the beach. Then it overturned,” Nurus Salam told AFP.

Around 120 Rohingya, many of them children, have drowned trying to reach Bangladesh in small fishing boats that coastguards say are woefully inadequate for the rough seas.

The United Nations estimates that around 480,000 have fled Myanmar's violence-wracked Rakhine state in recent weeks after attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts prompted a military crackdown.

Local police constable Fazlul Karim told AFP 14 bodies had so far been washed ashore, and there were fears the number could rise.

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