The United Nations human rights chief said on Tuesday that up to 10,000 people had fled their homes in Myanmar's Rakhine state after what she described as heavy fighting in the past week between government troops and ethnic insurgents.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) later said at least 2,800 people had fled according to early estimates but the true number could be "significantly higher" as the "scope and impact" of the reported clashes was not yet fully known.
Government and military spokesmen did not answer phone calls by Reuters seeking comment on the number of people who had fled or the reported fighting between the army, known as the Tatmadaw, and Arakan Army insurgents.
"Estimates indicate as many as 10,000 residents have already fled as the Tatmadaw advanced and heavy fighting commenced," Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Human Rights Council, a Geneva-based forum, during a debate on Myanmar.
UN agencies cited "reports by local partners and public sources" for the estimates of numbers of displaced people.
It was not possible for Reuters to independently verify the reports of fighting and displacement. Access for humanitarian workers is tightly limited in Rakhine. Journalists are banned, making it hard to verify reports from the region.
The reported flight of civilians came after a local administrator, in a letter seen by Reuters, last week warned dozens of village leaders in Rathedaung township that the army planned "clearance operations" against insurgents and urged them to go.
A government spokesman later said in a Facebook post that an evacuation order had been sent to local administrators by border-affairs officials but had later been revoked.
The spokesman did not specify why, but said that the government had instructed the military not to use the term "clearance operation". Myanmar's border affairs ministry acknowledged to Reuters that it had issued the evacuation order, but said that it affected only a few villages.