Plans to demolish thousands of buildings belonging to the Rohingya Muslim population in Myanmar have been condemned by a persecution watchdog.
The order was announced by the government of Myanmar on September 18 and confirmed in a press conference on Saturday. More than 3,000 buildings are set to be destroyed in the Rakhine (Arakhan) state, including 12 mosques and 35 madrasas in the Muslim-majority townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung.
Local and international Rohingya Muslim groups issued a joint statement last week that said the plans were "part of their [Rakhine State Government's] long-drawn-out annihilation and ethnic cleansing policy of the defenceless Rohingya people".
It added the announcement had "caused consternation to the entire Rohingya community" and called for a halt to the demolition plans.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a religious freedom charity, said there had been a "dramatic escalation" of abuses against the Rohingya population and said 150,000 people are living in refugees camps as a result of the violence and persecution.
Senior United Nations officials have described conditions in these camps as some of the worst in the world.
Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of CSW, said he was "deeply concerned" by the proposals to demolish mosques and madrasas.
"Destroying these buildings would only further stoke tensions in the country and fuel the persecution of an already severely marginalised and dehumanised people group," he said in a statement on Tuesday.
"We call on the government of Burma [Myanmar] to uphold and protect freedom of religion or belief for all. We also urge the government to lift the block on humanitarian aid access to parts of Rakhine state, as well as Kachin and northern Shan States, and to ensure that all those displaced by conflict receive the humanitarian aid they urgently need."
The Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar were not allowed to vote in the country's recent election and are not included in the national census.