GENEVA (Reuters) - An unknown number of people fleeing sectarian violence in Myanmar's Rakhine region are adrift in boats on the Naf River and some have been turned back by Bangladeshi border authorities, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
"The U.N. refugee agency has first-hand, credible accounts of boats from Myanmar not being enabled to access Bangladeshi territory. These reports indicate women, children and some wounded are on board," the agency said in a statement.
Refugees interviewed by Reuters Television next to the Naf River gave accounts of the days of sectarian violence in which thousands of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas have been displaced. Many are feared dead.
"The (Rakhines) torched our houses, killed our relatives, assaulted our women. They were killing Muslims," said Abdus Salam.
"When we protested, the government forces also shot our people dead. Then we started fleeing."
Witnesses told Reuters Television that some people fleeing the violence had made it ashore in Bangladesh.
"To save their lives they came in boats and four times they tried to come into Bangladesh, but the Border Guard stopped them," said Munira Begum, adding she had helped 14 refugees.
"They were pushed back but somehow they came ashore and they were all crying. The local people asked them, 'What happened to you?' They said that the Rakhines are killing us, so to be safe we had come here.
"Then the local people gave them food and shelter. Forty-five people came in and they are staying with different families."
Andrej Mahecic, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing in Geneva that those stranded on boats or near the Naf River were in desperate need of water, food and medical care.
"We have been talking to the Bangladeshi authorities and we hope that Bangladesh, in line with its long tradition of hospitality for the people of Myanmar, will allow access to safe haven and to assistance for this people," said Mahecic.
There are already some 30,000 Rohingyas staying in two camps in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh.
U.N. officials who reached Rakhine this week saw a number of "smoldering villages" in the border areas affected by the violence, the UNHCR said.
"Based on what we saw, we consider that displacement could be considerable. The government estimates that some 30,000 people have been displaced," Mahecic said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Hemming and Ralph Gowling)
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