BANGKOK - A leading international rights group on Monday accused authorities in Myanmar, including Buddhist monks, of fomenting an organized campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country's Rohingya Muslim minority that killed hundreds of people and forced 125,000 from their homes.
Human Rights Watch also described the bloody wave of violence and massacres in western Rakhine state last year as crimes against humanity, and slammed the government of President Thein Sein for failing to bring the perpetrators to justice months after mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes and homemade guns razed thousands of Muslim homes.
While state security forces sometimes intervened to protect fleeing Muslims, more often they fueled the unrest, the rights group said, either by standing by idle or directly participating in atrocities. One soldier reportedly told a Muslim man whose village was ablaze: "The only thing you can do is pray to save your lives."
The allegations, detailed in a new report by the New York-based rights group, came the same day the European Union lifted all sanctions on Myanmar except an arms embargo to reward the Southeast Asian nation for its progress toward democratic rule.
Win Myaing, a government spokesman for Rakhine state, strongly rejected the allegations against state security forces, saying Human Rights Watch investigators "don't understand the situation on the ground."
He said there the government had no prior knowledge of impending attacks and deployed forces to stop the unrest.
"We don't want unrest in the country because such incidents stall the democratic process and affect development," he said.
The spread of sectarian violence has posed one of the greatest challenges yet to Thein Sein's nascent government as it takes unprecedented steps to liberalize the country after almost half a century of military dictatorship.
Also Monday, the British Broadcasting Corp. aired dramatic video footage showing police in Meikhtila standing by as looting, arson and multiple attacks against Muslims were under way.
The BBC said much of the footage was filmed by police.