Myanmar Army chief: Rohingya Muslims ‘not natives’
YANGON: 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 on Thursday, 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.
Army Chief Senior 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 Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military campaign is popular in Myanmar, where there is little sympathy for the mostly stateless Rohingya, and where Buddhist nationalism has surged.
Min Aung Hlaing, referring to Rohingya by the term “Bengali,” which they regard as derogatory, said British colonialists were responsible for the problem.
“The Bengalis were not taken into the country by Myanmar, but by the colonialists,” he told Marciel, according to the account of the meeting posted on Thursday.
“They are not the natives.” Coordinated Rohingya insurgent attacks on some 30 security posts on Aug. 25 sparked a ferocious military response.
The UN rights office said in its report, based on 65 interviews with Rohingya who had arrived in Bangladesh, that abuses had begun before the Aug. 25 attacks and included killings, torture and rape of children.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley last month denounced a “brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority” and called on countries to suspend providing weapons to Myanmar until its military put sufficient accountability measures in place.
The EU and the US are considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders, officials familiar with the discussions said this week.
Suu Kyi later delivered a speech on television calling for national unity. She said she has created a committee that will oversee all international and local assistance in violence-struck Rakhine state.
Suu Kyi acknowledged that the country is facing widespread criticism over the refugee crisis, and called for unity in tackling the problem. She said her government is holding talks with Bangladesh on the return of “those who are now in Bangladesh.” She gave no details, but officials have suggested they would need to provide residency documents, which few have.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein has described the government operations as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and said the action appeared to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return.”