Myanmar’s army chief says Rohingyas are not native, exodus numbers ‘exaggerated’
YANGON: The media has “exaggerated” the number of Rohingya refugees fleeing an army crackdown, Myanmar’s commanderin-chief said on Thursday, in a brash rebuttal of accusations of ethnic cleansing by his forces.
Nearly 520,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s western Rakhine state since August 25, when the military launched a sweeping campaign against militants from the Muslim minority.
The crackdown has been so intense that the UN on Wednesday accused Myanmar of trying to purge its entire Rohingya population.
A new UN report released Wednesday described the armyled crackdown as “well-organised, coordinated and systematic, with the intent of not only driving the population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning to their homes”.
Half of Myanmar’s Rohingya have bolted over the last seven weeks, fleeing incinerated villa- ges to join what has become the world’s largest refugee camp in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Thousands more are still trying to escape, massing on beaches and hoping to cross the Naf River before their food runs out.
But in a Facebook post on his official page on Thursday, army chief Min Aung Hlaing was unrepentant, describing the military response as proportionate and playing down the scale of the exodus.
It is an “exaggeration to say that the number of Bengalis fleeing to Bangladesh is very large,” the post quoted him as saying, using a pejorative term for the Rohingya that classifies them as illegal immigrants.
Instead, he blamed “instigation and propaganda” by the media, who have become a punching bag for anger inside Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority country where there is little sympathy for Rohingyas.
Rohingya refugee children line up for food at the Balukhali refugee camp outside Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh.