Myanmar soldiers systematically targeted and gangraped Rohingya women during the violence against the Muslim community in August, United Nations envoy Pramila Patten said on Sunday. A special representative of the UN secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, she said she had heard of many “horrific stories” of such “widespread atrocities”, AFP reported.

Patten said many women and girls had died because of the rapes, and that this sexual violence was one of the reasons for the mass exodus of Rohinygas from Myanmar. She made the statement while talking to reporters in Dhaka after visiting Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where some Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in camps.

More than six lakh Rohingyas have fled violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state since August 25, after security forces launched an operation in response to attacks allegedly carried out by militants. Most of them crossed the border into Bangladesh, where they now live in crowded refugee camps.

The sexual violence in Rakhine was “commanded, orchestrated and perpetrated by the armed forces of Myanmar”, Patten said, adding that many had scars, bruises and bite marks as reminders of their assault.

“The forms of sexual violence we consistently heard about from survivors include gangrape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation and sexual slavery in military captivity,” the UN envoy said, adding that Myanmar border police and militias composed of Buddhists and other ethnic groups in Rakhine were also involved in the sexual violence.

Rohingyas have been denied citizenship in Myanmar and are classified as illegal immigrants. The community has been subjected to violence by the Buddhist majority and the Army in Myanmar, though the country has repeatedly denied this claim. The crisis has threatened to jeopardise Myanmar’s US-aided shift toward democracy after five decades of military rule.