YANGON (Reuters) – Rohingya Muslims are not native to Myanmar, the army chief told the US ambassador in a meeting in which he apparently did not address accusations of abuses by his men and said media was complicit in exaggerating the number of refugees fleeing.
The UN human rights office said on Wednesday Myanmar forces had brutally driven out half a million Rohingya from northern Rakhine state to Bangladesh in recent weeks, torching homes, crops and villages to prevent them from returning.
Thousands of Rohingya were leaving the state yesterday, aiming to reach Bangladesh by boat, citing a shortage of food and fear of repression, residents said. A Myanmar official said people were leaving but he dismissed the suggestion hunger and intimidation were factors.
The army chief, Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing, gave his most extensive account of the Rohingya refugee crisis aimed at an international audience in the meeting with Ambassador Scot Marciel, according to a report posted on his Facebook page.
The general is the most powerful person in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and his
apparently uncompromising stance would indicate little
sensitivity about the military’s image over a crisis that has drawn international condemnation and raised questions about a transition to democracy under Aung San Suu Kyi.
Min Aung Hlaing, referring to Rohingya by the term “Bengali”, which they regard as derogatory, said British colonialists were responsible for
“The Bengalis were not taken into the country by Myanmar, but by the colonialists,” he told Mr Marciel, according to the account of the meeting posted yesterday. “They are not the natives.”
Coordinated Rohingya insurgent attacks on some 30 security posts on August 25 sparked
a ferocious military response.