Myanmar’s army chief claims Ro­hingya ex­o­dus ‘ex­ag­ger­ated’

The Nation - - THAILAND | ASEAN PLUS -

THE ME­DIA has “ex­ag­ger­ated” the num­ber of Ro­hingya refugees flee­ing an army crack­down, Myanmar’s com­man­der-in-chief said yes­ter­day, in a brash re­but­tal of ac­cu­sa­tions of eth­nic cleans­ing by his forces.

Some 520,000 Ro­hingya have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state since Au­gust 25, when the mil­i­tary launched a 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 on Wed­nes­day de­scribed the army-led 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 vil­lages 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 yes­ter­day, 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 Bud­dhist­ma­jor­ity coun­try where there is lit­tle sym­pa­thy for the Ro­hingya.

The hu­man­i­tar­ian needs of the refugees who have made it to Ban­galdesh are im­mense with limited food, shelter and the threat a dis­ease out­break deep­en­ing by the day.

But Min Aung Hlaing, who rights groups say car­ries per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity for the cri­sis, in­sisted the Ro­hingya are merely re­turn­ing to their moth­er­land.

“The na­tive place of Ben­galis is really Ben­gal,” he said. “They might have fled to the other coun­try with the same lan­guage, race and cul­ture as theirs by as­sum­ing that they would be safer there.”

His com­ments fol­lowed a meet­ing with US Am­bas­sador Scot Mar­ciel, who ac­cord­ing to the post “ex­pressed con­cern” over the half mil­lion refugees and of­fered to help aid ef­forts.

This week an AFP re­porter on a rare gov­ern­ment-steered trip to the con­flict-hit Rakhine heard tes­ti­mony from Ro­hingya vil­lagers who were scared and run­ning out of food.

They said eth­nic Rakhine Bud­dhist vil­lagers were try­ing to starve them out of their homes.

Au­thor­i­ties were pro­vid­ing sup­plies to the Ro­hingya left be­hind, said Min Aung Hlaing, glibly adding food is plen­ti­ful in Rakhine where “fish can eas­ily be caught”.

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