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Lack of access to Myanmar's Rakhine state 'unacceptable': UN

© AFP/File | A policeman stands guard near a military transport helicopter at Ye Baw Kyaw village, Maungdaw in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, on September 27, 2017

GENEVA (AFP) - 

The lack of humanitarian access granted by Myanmar's government to Rakhine state, where more than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled violence, is "unacceptable", the UN said Friday.

"The access we have in northern Rakhine state is unacceptable", the head of the United Nations humanitarian office, Mark Lowcock, told reporters in Geneva.

A small UN team visited the crisis-wracked region in majority Buddhist Myanmar in recent days and described witnessing "unimaginable" suffering.

Myanmar has tightly controlled access to the state since last month when attacks by Rohingya militants prompted an army kickback that has sent 515,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.

Scores of Rohingya villages have been torched.

Lowcock said he believed a "a high level" UN team would be able to visit the area "in the next few days".

He repeated the UN's call for the government to allow "unhindered (and) unfettered" access.

"Half a million people do not pick up sticks and flee their country on a whim," Lowcock added, stressing that the scale of the exodus was evidence of a severe crisis in northern Rakhine.

The UN has "substantial capacity" in Myanmar which can be quickly deployed to northern Rakhine once clearance is granted he added.

A Myanmar official tally says hundreds of people died as violence consumed remote communities, including Rohingya.

Hindus and ethnic Rakhine were also among the dead -- allegedly killed by Rohingya militants.

Rights groups say the real death toll is likely to be much higher, especially among the Rohingya, while the UN has labelled army operations as "ethnic cleansing" against the Muslim group.

There may be up to 100,000 more people in northern Rakhine waiting to cross into Bangladesh, according to the International Organization for Migration.

© 2017 AFP