The United Nations says more than 40 Muslims were killed when a Buddhist mob stormed a village in western Myanmar last week, hunting down residents with knives and machetes, officials said yesterday. They said others were missing and feared dead.
Details about a UN investigation of the incident were presented in briefings with US Embassy staff, humanitarian aid workers and others, the officials said.
Myanmar's government has strongly denied the claims.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said yesterday he "strongly objects" to the UN claims, adding the facts and figures were "totally wrong."
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation, has been grappling with sectarian violence since June 2012.
The incident in Du Char Yar Tan, a village in Northern Rakhine state, appears to be the deadliest in a year, and would bring the total number killed nationwide in the sectarian violence to more than 280, most of them Muslims. Another 250,000 people have fled their homes.
Northern Rakhine - home to 80 per-cent of the country's long-persecuted Muslim Rohingya population - runs along the Bay of Bengal and is cut off from the rest of the country by a mountain range. It is off-limits to foreign journalists and access for humanitarian aid workers severely restricted.
But evidence of a massacre, first reported last week, has been steadily mounting, with an independent Thailand-based rights group, Fortify Rights, also saying yesterday that more than 40 were killed. Matthew Smith, the group's executive director, said he based his findings on extensive interviews with witnesses and local people.
A UN team also visited the scene last week.
A statement released yesterday by Valerie Amos, the UN's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, was vague, only mentioning "alarming levels of violence, including the killings of many civilians and a policeman."
But officials present at the UN briefing yesterday said that a thorough investigation, including witness testimony and descriptions of the violence, indicated that estimates of 40 dead were conservative.