Thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar fled to Bangladesh yesterday in a new surge of refugees driven by fears of starvation and violence the United Nations has denounced 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 sanctions to punish the military for the violence, according to a draft document.
On the Bangladeshi side of the border, in Palong Khali district, several thousand people crossed on Monday from northern Rakhine, filing along embankments between flooded fields and scrubby forest.
"Half of my village was burnt down. I saw them do it," said Sayed Azin (46), who said 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. "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 a campaign of killing and arson aimed at driving the Rohingya out of Myanmar.
Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing and has labelled the militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army who launched the initial attacks as terrorists who have killed civilians and burnt villages.
Among those fleeing were up to 35 people on a boat that capsized off the Bangladesh 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," said Sayed Hossein (30), adding that his wife, three children, mother and father-in-law had drowned.
Myanmar leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced scathing international criticism for not doing more to stop the violence, although she has no power over the security forces under a military-drafted constitution.
Source: The Independence