Myanmar army exonerates itself

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Rohingya refugees who had been stranded in the 'no-man's land' between Myanmar and Bangladesh walk into Palongkhali in Bangladesh's Ukhia district. AFP

YANGON (Reuters) – Human rights groups poured scorn yesterday on a Myanmar military investigation into alleged atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, branding it a “whitewash” and calling for UN and independent investigators to be allowed into the country.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a counter-insurgency clearance operation in Rakhine state that a top UN official has called a classic case of “ethnic cleansing”.

Accusations of organised mass rape and other crimes against humanity were levelled at the Myanmar military on Sunday by another senior UN official, who had toured camps in Bangladesh where Rohingya refugees have taken shelter.

Pramila Patten, the UN special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, said she would raise accusations against the Myanmar military with the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The military, known as the Tatmadaw, has consistently protested its innocence, and on Monday it posted the findings of an internal investigation on the Facebook page of its commander in chief, Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

It said it had found no instances where its soldiers had shot and killed Rohingya villagers, raped women or tortured prisoners. It denied that security forces had torched Rohingya villages or used “excessive force”.

The military said that, while 376 “terrorists” were killed, there were no deaths of innocent people.

“The Burmese military’s absurd effort to absolve itself of mass atrocities underscores why an independent international investigation is needed to establish the facts and identify those responsible,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a statement.

Amnesty International also dismissed the military’s internal investigation and called for a UN fact-finding mission and for other independent investigators to be given full access to Rakhine.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the military has murdered and raped Rohingya and burned their villages to the ground,” the group said.

“After recording countless stories of horror and using satellite analysis to track the growing devastation we can only reach one conclusion: these attacks amount to crimes against humanity.”

While world leaders wrung their hands, thousands of Rohingya remained stranded in Myanmar, on beaches around the mouth of the Naf river, hoping to find a boat to make the short, sometimes perilous crossing to Bangladesh.

More than 200 have drowned making the attempt in the past couple of months and Bangladesh border guards have clamped down on fishermen who Rohingya were paying to take them across.

With fewer boats available, desperate Rohingya have been stringing together rafts from bamboo and plastic canisters. In the past week, some 1,200 people crossed over on such flimsy rafts, according to police.

“They’re still coming, risking their lives, driven by fears of starvation and violence,” Shariful Azam,
a police official in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.

On Friday, the Myanmar military replaced the commanding officer in Rakhine state. No reason for Maj Gen Maung Maung Soe’s transfer was given, but a senior officer with the military’s media department said the general had no new assignment, and had been placed on a reserve list.

A spokeswoman for the US State Department, Katina Adams, said the US was aware of reports of the
general’s replacement.

“We remain gravely concerned by continuing reports of violence and human rights abuses committed by Burmese security forces and vigilantes. Those responsible for abuses must be held accountable,” she said.

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