UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says it is "an absolutely essential priority" to stop all violence against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims, allow them to return to their homes, and determine their legal status.

The U.N. chief told reporters Friday that the U.N. is also insisting on "unhindered humanitarian access" to all areas of northern Rakhine State, where more than 600,000 Rohingyas lived before fleeing to Bangladesh.

The latest violence began with a series of attacks Aug. 25 by Rohingya insurgents. Myanmar security forces responded with a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages that the U.N. and human rights groups have called disproportionate and a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Guterres called the situation "an immense tragedy," saying that the "levels of violence and the atrocities committed are something that we cannot be silent about."