The UN human rights chief has called for a “prompt and independent” investigation into the ethnic violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Navi Pillay said on Friday that an initial move by Myanmar security forces to quash violence in the restive Rakhine state has reportedly turned into a crackdown against Muslim minorities.

"We have been receiving a stream of reports from independent sources alleging discriminatory and arbitrary responses by security forces, and even their instigation of and involvement in clashes," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

"Reports indicate that the initial swift response of the authorities to the communal violence may have turned into a crackdown targeting Muslims, in particular members of the Rohingya community."

Clashes between Buddhist ethnic Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities which erupted early June in the western Myanmar state has left at least 78 people dead and 70,000 homeless, Pillay's office said, according to official figures.

Unofficial estimates of the death toll were higher, her office added.

Pillay urged the government to "prevent and punish violent acts" and said she was dismayed at the derogatory language used against the Rohingya by state and some independent media, as well as by some users of social networking websites.

While welcoming Myanmar's invitation to UN investigator Tomas Ojea Quintana to visit from July 30 to August 4, Pillay said it was "no substitute for a fully-fledged independent investigation" into the Rakhine violence.

She also pointed out that it was "important that those affected from all communities in Rakhine are able to speak freely" to Quintana.

An estimated 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar, and the government considers them to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

Source: Agencies