UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed hope that the November 8 general elections in Myanmar would open the door for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees “in safety and dignity.”

In a statement issued here on  Friday,  he also hoped that the elections would help “advance inclusive sustainable development, humanitarian action, human rights and democratic reforms.”

According to the statement, the UN chief renewed his call “for a ceasefire across the country to allow all to focus on combating the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Guterres also expressed his concern about the “armed conflict in many areas of Myanmar, especially the intensifying clashes in Rakhine and Chin states.”

Rohingya Muslims have been described as the world’s most persecuted community by the UN.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were killed, injured, arbitrarily arrested, or raped by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist mobs mainly between November 2016 and August 2017 in what the UN has said was genocide.

Some 800,000 other Rohingya survived only by fleeing to Bangladesh, where they live in cramped camps.

Another 600,000 Rohingya Muslims still remain in Myanmar under apartheid-like conditions, confined to camps and villages and denied access to healthcare and education.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and considered illegal immigrants and have no right to vote, despite their ancestral roots dating back centuries.

IN his statement, the UN chief also noted with concern that armed conflict was ongoing “in many areas of Myanmar” with intensifying clashes in Rakhine and Chin states, continuing to take a heavy toll on vulnerable civilians.

Unimpeded humanitarian access for the United Nations and its partners remained crucial, Guterres said, before renewing his appeal for a national ceasefire.

This would allow everyone to focus on combating the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.