Myan­mar army’s de­nial draws Amnesty scorn

Self-ex­on­er­at­ing probe panned as ‘white­wash’

Bangkok Post - - ASEAN -

YANGON: Hu­man rights group Amnesty In­ter­na­tional poured scorn on a Myan­mar mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged atroc­i­ties against Ro­hingya Mus­lims, brand­ing it a “white­wash” and call­ing for UN and in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tors to be al­lowed into the coun­try.

More than 600,000 Ro­hingya have fled to Bangladesh since late Au­gust, driven out by a counter-in­sur­gency clear­ance op­er­a­tion in Rakhine State that a top UN of­fi­cial has called a clas­sic case of “eth­nic cleans­ing”.

Accusations of or­gan­ised mass rape and other crimes against hu­man­ity were lev­elled at the Myan­mar mil­i­tary on Sun­day by an­other se­nior United Na­tions of­fi­cial, who had toured camps in Bangladesh where Ro­hingya refugees have taken shel­ter.

Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary has con­sis­tently claimed its in­no­cence, and on Mon­day it posted the find­ings of an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion on the Face­book page of its com­man­der in chief, Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

It said it had found no in­stances where its sol­diers had shot and killed Ro­hingya vil­lagers, raped women or tor­tured pris­on­ers. It de­nied that se­cu­rity forces had torched Ro­hingya vil­lages or used “ex­ces­sive force”.

The mil­i­tary’s self-ex­on­er­a­tion came as US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son pre­pared to visit Myan­mar to­day for talks with lead­ers.

Both Mr Tiller­son and Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of a less than two-year-old civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion that has no con­trol over the mil­i­tary, are at­tend­ing a re­gional sum­mit in Manila.

With US se­na­tors back in Wash­ing­ton press­ing to im­pose eco­nomic sanc­tions and travel re­stric­tions tar­get­ing the mil­i­tary and its busi­ness in­ter­ests, Mr Tiller­son is ex­pected to de­liver a stern mes­sage to Myan­mar’s gen­er­als, while sup­port­ing the tran­si­tion to democ­racy.

Ms Suu Kyi dis­cussed the Ro­hingya cri­sis with UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res at the South­east Asian lead­ers’ sum­mit in Manila.

“The sec­re­tary-gen­eral high­lighted that strength­ened ef­forts to en­sure hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess, safe, dig­ni­fied, vol­un­tary and sus­tained re­turns, as well as true rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween com­mu­ni­ties, would be es­sen­tial,” a UN rep­re­sen­ta­tive said in brief note on the meet­ing.

Coin­ci­den­tally on Fri­day, the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer in Rakhine state, Maj Gen Maung Maung Soe was re­placed. No rea­son for his trans­fer was given, but a se­nior of­fi­cer with the mil­i­tary’s me­dia de­part­ment said he had no new as­sign­ment and had been placed on a re­serve list.

A spokes­woman for the US State De­part­ment, Katina Adams, said the United States was aware of re­ports of the gen­eral’s re­place­ment.

“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,” Ms Adams said.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional dis­missed the mil­i­tary’s in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion and called for a UN fact-find­ing mis­sion and other in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tors to be given full ac­cess to Rakhine.

“Once again, Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary is try­ing to sweep se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions against the Ro­hingya un­der the car­pet,” James Gomez, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s re­gional di­rec­tor for South­east Asia and the Pa­cific, said in a state­ment re­leased late on Mon­day.

Amnesty said: “There is over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence that the mil­i­tary has mur­dered and raped Ro­hingya and burned their vil­lages to the ground.

“Af­ter record­ing count­less sto­ries of hor­ror and us­ing satel­lite anal­y­sis to track the grow­ing dev­as­ta­tion we can only reach one con­clu­sion: These at­tacks amount to crimes against hu­man­ity.”

Speak­ing in Dhaka, Pramila Pat­ten, the UN spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the sec­re­tary­gen­eral on sex­ual vi­o­lence in con­flict, said she would raise accusations against the Myan­mar mil­i­tary with the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court in the Hague.

“Sex­ual vi­o­lence is be­ing com­manded and per­pe­trated by the armed forces of Myan­mar, other­wise known as the Tat­madaw,” Ms Pat­ten said fol­low­ing a three­day tour of the Ro­hingya refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar re­gion of Bangladesh.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May also said in for­eign pol­icy ad­dress on Mon­day that Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary should be called to ac­count.

“This is a ma­jor hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis which looks like eth­nic cleans­ing,” she said in a speech de­liv­ered at the Lord Mayor’s Ban­quet in the City of Lon­don.

“And it is some­thing for which the Burmese au­thor­i­ties — and es­pe­cially the mil­i­tary — must take full re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

The govern­ment in mostly Bud­dhist Myan­mar, which is also known as Burma, re­gards the Ro­hingya as il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh.

Ms Suu Kyi’s fail­ure to speak out strongly over the Ro­hingya’s plight has widely dam­aged the No­bel peace prize win­ner’s rep­u­ta­tion as a stateswoman.

Many diplo­mats be­lieve Myan­mar’s frag­ile tran­si­tion to democ­racy would be jeop­ar­dised if she pub­licly crit­i­cised the armed forces.

A junta ruled Myan­mar for 49 years and the gen­er­als have re­tained their author­ity over de­fence, se­cu­rity and bor­der is­sues.

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