Burma Army Chief Persists in Denying Rights Abuses

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 7 December 2016

RANGOON — As international condemnation of alleged human rights abuses against the Rohingya minority in northern Arakan State mounts, the country’s military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has doubled down on his denials, saying on Monday that “Burmese security forces have not committed any human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, rapes, or arson.”

He told Malaysia’s General Tan Sri Dato’ Sri that “if any violations were discovered, the offenders would be prosecuted.” His discussion with his Malaysian counterpart in Naypyidaw came a day after Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak led a protest in Kuala Lumpur against what he called the “genocide” of Burma’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has become increasingly assertive on denials of Burma Army abuses during military “clearance operations” conducted in response to a series of attacks on border guard outposts in Maungdaw Township on Oct. 9. The government said that the attacks were carried out by Muslim militants who also looted firearms and ammunitions.
On Tuesday, when he met with Russia’s Ambassador to Burma, Dr. Nikolay Listopadov, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said that the Bengalis—the term used by the Burmese government to refer to the Rohingya—in Arakan State are not an ethnic group of Burma and have migrated to the country.

“[Rohingya] need to enter the national verification process in accordance with the Citizenship Law. The process must be in accordance with the law, not in the name of human rights. They need to follow and respect Burma’s existing laws,” he said.

On the same day, Burma’s military chief also met with the Arakan State Advisory Commission headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and denied media accusations that the Burma Army committed murders, rapes and arson. “According to the reports on the ground, there were no murder or rape cases,” he said.

“But for arsons, there were cases in which they [Rohingya] themselves set fire to their homes. Some did so in hope of getting a new home,” he said, adding that the Burma Army previously built homes for displaced persons in conflict areas so it was “impossible for the Tatmadaw to have set fire to their houses.”

Access to Maungdaw for journalists has been restricted since the beginning of military operations so The Irrawaddy was unable to independently verify accusations of abuse.

David Mathieson of Human Rights Watch told The Irrawaddy that Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing should not offer a blanket denial of allegations of serious human rights violations during security operations, but should commit to investigating them.

“Without permitting access to media and investigators, these allegations will persist, and the longer the military denies access, the more it seems like buying time for a cover-up,” he said.

“The scale of destruction from satellite photos clearly shows that the counter-insurgency operation against militants had a brutal effect on the civilian population,” he added.