YANGON (REUTERS) - Myanmar's army has replaced the general in charge of Rakhine state following a military crackdown that has driven more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighbouring Bangladesh amid reports of mass rape, torture and other crimes against humanity.
No reason was given why Major General Maung Maung Soe was transferred from his post as the head of Western Command in Rakhine, 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," Major General Aye Lwin, deputy director of the psychological warfare and public relation department at the Ministry of Defence, told Reuters. "He wasn't moved into any position at present, he has been put in reserve."
The move comes ahead of visit on Wednesday (Nov 15) by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who is expected to deliver a stern message to Myanmar's generals, over whom national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, criticised in the West for failing to halt the atrocities, has little control.
Senators in Washington are pressing to pass legislation imposing economic and travel sanctions targeting the military and its business interests.
Leaders of Asian nations meeting in Manila on Monday skirted around the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims, disappointing human rights groups who were hoping for a tough stand on the crisis.
Maung Maung Soe's transfer was ordered on Friday and Brigadier General Soe Tint Naing had been appointed as the new head of Western Command. Soe Tint Naing's previous role was as a director for logistics.
A senior UN official 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.
On Sunday, another UN official accused Myanmar's military of conducting organised rape and other crimes against humanity, and said she would raise the matter with the International Criminal Court 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," Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said in Dhaka.
"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," Patten said.