Dhaka: Two senior UN officials investigating the massive killings of Muslims in Myanmar has confirmed that more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims may have been killed in an army crackdown.

The officials, from two separate UN agencies working in Bangladesh, where nearly 70,000 Rohingya have fled in recent months, said they were concerned the outside world had not fully grasped the severity of the crisis unfolding in Myanmar’s Rakhni State.

“The talk until now has been of hundreds of deaths. This is probably an underestimation – we could be looking at thousands,” said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Both officials, in separate interviews, cited the weight of testimony gathered by their agencies from refugees over the past four months for concluding the death toll likely exceeded 1,000.

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman said the latest reports from military commanders were that fewer than 100 people have been killed in a counterinsurgency operation against Rohingya militants who attacked police border posts in October.

Asked about the UN officials’ comments that the dead could number more than 1,000, he said: “Their number is much greater than our figure. We have to check on the ground.”

About 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship. Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

In addition to the information the two UN officials gave Reuters, a report released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Friday gave accounts of mass killings and gang rapes by troops in northwestern Myanmar in recent months, which it said probably constituted crimes against humanity.

The government led by Aung San Suu Kyi said last week it would investigate the allegations in the report. It has previously denied almost all accusations of killings, rapes and arson.