UNITED NATIONS -  Myanmar's security forces have committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims and burned down villages since October in a campaign that likely amounts to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing, according to the United Nations.The flash report - released Friday by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) based on its interviews with people who fled Myanmar after attacks on a border post in early October, the ensuing counter military operations and a lockdown in north Maungdaw - documents mass gang-rape, killings, including of babies and young children, brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by the country's security forces.

“The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable - what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother's milk. And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces who should be protecting her,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said. “What kind of 'clearance operation' is this? What national security goals could possibly be served by this?”

OHCHR noted that more than half of the women its human rights team interviewed reported having suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence. Many other interviewees reported witnessing killings, including of family members and having family who were missing.

The report also cites consistent testimony indicating that hundreds of Rohingya houses, schools, markets, shops, madrasas and mosques were burned by the army, police and sometimes civilian mobs. Witnesses also described the destruction of food and food sources, including paddy fields, and the confiscation of livestock. It also noted that several people were killed in indiscriminate and random shooting - many while fleeing for safety.

“Numerous testimonies collected from people from different village tracts…confirmed that the army deliberately set fire to houses with families inside, and in other cases pushed Rohingyas into already burning houses,” the report states.

“Testimonies were collected of several cases where the army or Rakhine villagers locked an entire family, including elderly and disabled people, inside a house and set it on fire, killing them all.”

Many witnesses and victims also described being taunted while they were being beaten, raped or rounded up, such as being told “you are Bangladeshis and you should go back” or “What can your Allah do for you? See what we can do?”

Calling on the international community for robust reaction given the gravity and scale of the allegations, High Commissioner Zeid stressed:“The Government of Myanmar must immediately halt these grave human rights violations against its own people, instead of continuing to deny they have occurred, and accepts the responsibility to ensure that victims have access to justice, reparations and safety.”

Malaysia ship carrying Rohingya

 aid departs for Myanmar

A Malaysian ship carrying food, clothes and medical supplies departed for Myanmar on Friday which Prime Minster Najib Razak said would be used to ease the suffering of the Muslim Rohingya.

A fourth-month military crackdown on Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine has galvanised the Muslim world, particularly Malaysia, and Najib has previously accused Myanmar's leaders of permitting "genocide". "We hear their sufferings and pain... those who have been raped, murdered and burned alive," Najib said at Port Klang, west of the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Around 700 people gathered to witness the departure of Nautical Aliya which was carrying about 2,200 tonnes of rice, medical aid, clothes and other essentials, as well as 238 activists and medical personnel.

It will travel to Yangon where authorities have agreed to take some of the supplies and distribute them to Rohingya living in Rakhine, said Wan Nordin, one of the coordinators onboard the ship.

The rest of the shipment, which has been sponsored by a coalition of aid groups based mainly in Malaysia, will be taken to Teknaf port in Bangladesh to support Rohingya refugees there, Wan said.

The bloody crackdown on Rohingya, which the United Nations said Friday had likely killed hundreds of people, has tarnished the image of the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, which took power in March.

Since October Myanmar's army has carried out "clearance operations" in the north of Rakhine to root out insurgents accused of deadly raids on police border posts.

At least 66,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, alleging rape, murder and torture at the hands of security forces.

Suu Kyi's government has said the allegations are invented and has resisted mounting international pressure to protect the minority.

Myanmar has long faced criticism over its treatment of the Rohingya who are considered by many in the Buddhist-majority country to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.