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YAN­GON: China en­dorses Myanmar’s of­fen­sive against Ro­hingya Mus­lim in­sur­gents, Myanmar state me­dia said on Thurs­day, as the UN sec­re­tary­gen­eral de­scribed the operation, forc­ing nearly 400,000 peo­ple to flee to Bangladesh, as “eth­nic cleans­ing”.

The Myanmar mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in the western state of Rakhine was trig­gered by a se­ries of guer­rilla at­tacks on Aug. 25 on se­cu­rity posts and an army camp in which about a dozen peo­ple were killed.

“The stance of China re­gard­ing the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Rakhine is clear, it is just an in­ter­nal af­fair,” the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar news­pa­per on Thurs­day quoted China’s am­bas­sador, Hong Liang, as telling top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

“The counter-at­tacks of Myanmar se­cu­rity forces against ex­trem­ist ter­ror­ists and the gov­ern­ment’s un­der­tak­ings to pro­vide as­sis­tance to the peo­ple are strongly wel­comed.”

But at the United Na­tions in New York, China set a dif­fer­ent tone, join­ing a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ex­pre­sion of con­cern about re­ports of ex­ces­sive vi­o­lence and call­ing for im­me­di­ate steps to end it. China com­petes with the United States for in­flu­ence in Myanmar, which in 2011 be­gan emerg­ing from nearly 50 years of strict mil­i­tary rule and diplo­matic and eco­nomic iso­la­tion. Ear­lier this week, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion called for pro­tec­tion of civil­ians. The vi­o­lence in Rakhine and the ex­o­dus of refugees is the most press­ing prob­lem No­bel Peace lau­re­ate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced since be­com­ing na­tional leader last year.

Suu Kyi is due to ad­dress the na­tion on Tues­day.

Crit­ics have called for her to be stripped of her No­bel prize for fail­ing to do more to halt the strife, though na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy is in the hands of the gen­er­als whose junta pre­vi­ously ran the coun­try.

UN Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Antonio Guter­res and the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Wed­nes­day urged Myanmar to end the vi­o­lence, which he said was best de­scribed as eth­nic cleans­ing. “When one third of the Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion had to flee the coun­try, could you find a bet­ter word to de­scribe it?” he told a news con­fer­ence in New York. The gov­ern­ment says it is tar­get­ing “ter­ror­ists”, while refugees say the of­fen­sive aims to push Ro­hingya out of Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myanmar.

Nu­mer­ous Ro­hingya vil­lages in the north of Rakhine have been torched but author­i­ties have de­nied that se­cu­rity forces or Bud­dhist civil­ians have been set­ting the fires. They blame the in­sur­gents.

The gov­ern­ment said on Wed­nes­day 45 places had been burned. It did not pro­vide de­tails but a spokesman said out of 471 vil­lages in the north of Rakhine, 176 had been de­serted and at least some peo­ple had left 34 oth­ers.

The spokesman, Zaw Htay, said the peo­ple go­ing to Bangladesh were ei­ther linked to the in­sur­gents, or women and chil­dren flee­ing con­flict.

Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures, 432 peo­ple have been killed, most of them in­sur­gents, since Aug. 25. Bangladesh author­i­ties say at least 100 bod­ies have been found in a bor­der river and on nearby beaches, some with wounds.

Sev­eral refugee boats have cap­sized, one on Thurs­day when a child drowned, a Reuters witness in Bangladesh said. Smoke was ris­ing from at least two places on the Myanmar side on Thurs­day. It was not clear what was burn­ing.

“Eth­nic cleans­ing” is not recog­nised as an in­de­pen­dent crime un­der in­ter­na­tional law, the UN Of­fice on Geno­cide Pre­ven­tion says, but it has been used in UN res­o­lu­tions and ac­knowl­edged in judge­ments and in­dict­ments of the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Tri­bunal for the for­mer Yu­goslavia.

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