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.”

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