Myanmar military denies atrocities against Rohingya in internal probe, replaces general

Myanmar’s army releases a report denying all allegations of rape and killings by security forces, having days earlier replaced the general in charge of the operation that drove more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
Myanmar border guard police officers patrol the beach near makeshift camp at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.
Myanmar border guard police officers patrol the beach near makeshift camp at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

YANGON (REUTERS) - Myanmar's army released a report on Monday (Nov 13) denying all allegations of rape and killings by security forces, having days earlier replaced the general in charge of the operation that drove more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.

The Myanmar military's internal probe said that according to 2,817 people interviewed from 54 Rohingya villages, soldiers did not fire on "innocent villagers", rape or commit sexual violence against women.

There were also no killings or beating of villagers, and the security forces did not carry out any looting or set fire to Rohingya mosques, said the report, which was posted on Facebook. 

It concluded that security forces only used small arms in clashes with Rohingya militants and there were no findings to suggest the use of "excessive force".

It also blamed the militants for setting fire to the villages and frightening and coercing people to leave their homes.

The report findings come after Major General Maung Maung Soe was transferred from his post as the head of Western Command in Rakhine state, where Myanmar's military, known as the Tatmadaw, launched a sweeping counter-insurgency operation in August.

"I don't know the reason why he was transferred," said Major General Aye Lwin, deputy director of the psychological warfare and public relation department at the Ministry of Defence. "He wasn't moved into any position at present. He has been put in reserve."

The developments came ahead of a visit on Wednesday by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He is expected to deliver a stern message to Myanmar's generals, over whom national leader Aung San Suu Kyi has little control.

A spokesman for the US State Department, Katina Adams, said the United States was aware of reports of the general's replacement and added: "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."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has described the army's actions in Rakhine as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar says the clearance operation was necessary for national security after Rohingya militants attacked 30 security posts and an army base in the state on Aug 25. The internal investigation put the number of fighters involved in the attacks at over 10,000, more than doubling an earlier official estimate.

Speaking in Dhaka, 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 (ICC) in the Hague.

"When I return to New York, I will brief and raise the issue with the prosecutor and president of the ICC whether they (Myanmar's military) can be held responsible for these atrocities," Patten said.

"Sexual violence is being commanded, orchestrated and perpetrated by the Armed Forces of Myanmar, otherwise known as the Tatmadaw," Patten said following a three-day tour of the Rohingya refugee camps in the Cox's Bazar region of Bangladesh. "Rape is an act and a weapon of genocide," she said.

Refugees have accused Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist vigilantes of torching their villages, murdering their families and raping women.

Patten said brutal acts of sexual violence had occurred in the context of collective persecution that included the killing of adults and children, torture, mutilation and the burning and looting of villages.

"The forms of sexual violence we consistently heard about from survivors include gang-rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity. One survivor was in captivity for 45 days by the Myanmar army," she said.

Myanmar's de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi said any alleged atrocities should be substantiated and investigated, while her government is working to stabilise Rakhine in order for the Rohingya to return.

For now, though, the flow is one way. The International Rescue Committee, a New York-based aid agency, reckons that around two-thirds of an estimated 300,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar could head across the border in the coming months.