UN rights chief: Rohingya have 'nowhere to flee' in western Myanmar fighting

GENEVA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Muslim-minority Rohingya, who were feared to be trapped amid fighting in western Myanmar, had nowhere to flee, the United Nations human rights chief said on Tuesday.

The Arakan Army, which is fighting for autonomy for Myanmar's Rakhine region, said late on Sunday that residents of the town of Maungdaw, inhabited primarily by the Rohingya, should leave by 9 p.m. (1430 GMT) ahead of a planned offensive.

"I am very concerned about the situation in Maungdaw. The Arakan Army this weekend gave all remaining residents – including a large Rohingya population – a warning to evacuate," Volker Turk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"But Rohingya have no options. There is nowhere to flee."

The Rohingya have faced persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for decades. Nearly a million of them live in refugee camps in Bangladesh's border district of Cox's Bazar after fleeing a military-led crackdown in Rakhine state on the western coast in 2017.

The Arakan Army's attack on Maungdaw is the latest in a months-long rebel onslaught against the Myanmar junta, which took power in a February 2021 coup and is finding its position increasingly weakened across large parts of the country.

Around 70,000 Rohingya in Maungdaw are trapped as the fighting draws closer, Aung Kyaw Moe, deputy human rights minister in the shadow National Unity Government, told Reuters on Monday.

A resident of Maungdaw who declined to be named for safety reasons said: "We have nowhere to go, no safe zone, not enough food and basic necessities."

"If they force us to leave, we will have no place to migrate."

An Arakan Army spokesman did not immediately respond to calls and a message seeking comment.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Geneva and Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Editing by Bernadette Baum)