Burma de­nies harm­ing Ro­hingya

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - ES­THER HTU­SAN In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Todd Pit­man and Edith M. Led­erer of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

NAYPYITAW, Burma — Burma’s mil­i­tary is­sued its most force­ful de­nial yet that se­cu­rity forces com­mit­ted atroc­i­ties dur­ing what the gov­ern­ment has called “clear­ance op­er­a­tions” in the west of the coun­try, say­ing an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion had ab­solved them of any wrong­do­ing in a cri­sis that has trig­gered the largest refugee ex­o­dus in Asia in decades.

The re­port con­tra­dicts con­sis­tent state­ments from eth­nic Ro­hingya Mus­lim refugees now in Bangladesh — some with gun­shot wounds and se­vere burns — who have de­scribed mas­sacres, rape, loot­ing and the burn­ing of hun­dreds of vil­lages by Burma’s army and civil­ian mobs.

The United Na­tions hu­man­i­tar­ian of­fice said Tues­day that the num­ber of Ro­hingya who have fled Burma for Bangladesh since Aug. 25 has risen to 618,000.

In a state­ment is­sued late Mon­day, the mil­i­tary said it had in­ter­viewed thou­sands of peo­ple dur­ing a month­long in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the con­duct of troops in western Rakhine state af­ter Ro­hingya in­sur­gents launched a se­ries of deadly at­tacks there Aug. 25.

While the re­port ac­knowl­edged that bat­tles against mil­i­tants from the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army had left 376 “ter­ror­ists” dead, it also claimed se­cu­rity forces had “never shot at the in­no­cent Ben­galis” and “there was no death of in­no­cent peo­ple.”

Burma’s gov­ern­ment and most of the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity say the mem­bers of the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity group are “Ben­galis” who mi­grated il­le­gally from Bangladesh, not ac­knowl­edg­ing the Ro­hingya as a lo­cal eth­nic group even though they have lived in Burma for gen­er­a­tions.

Burma is of­ten called Myan­mar, a name that mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ties adopted in 1989. Some na­tions, such as the United States and Bri­tain, have re­fused to adopt the name change.

New York-based Hu­man Rights Watch said the mil­i­tary’s lat­est claims were “con­trary to a large and grow­ing body of ev­i­dence” doc­u­ment­ing se­vere rights abuses in Burma.

“The Burmese mil­i­tary’s ab­surd ef­fort to ab­solve it­self of mass atroc­i­ties un­der­scores why an in­de­pen­dent in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion is needed to estab­lish the facts and iden­tify those re­spon­si­ble,” said Brad Adams, Asia di­rec­tor at Hu­man Rights Watch. “The Burmese au­thor­i­ties have once again shown that they can’t and won’t cred­i­bly in­ves­ti­gate them­selves.”

The mil­i­tary said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion — which was led by Lt. Gen. Aye Win, in­spec­tor-gen­eral of the de­fense forces — showed that se­cu­rity forces did not use ex­ces­sive force and abided by the army’s rules of en­gage­ment.

Burma’s gov­ern­ment does not al­low in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists to travel freely to the parts of Rakhine state where most of the lat­est vi­o­lence has taken place.

The re­port comes just ahead of an ex­pected visit today by U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, who is to hold talks with se­nior of­fi­cials on the cri­sis.

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