Foreign Officials ‘Deeply Troubled’ by Findings of UN Report

By Reuters 7 February 2017

DHAKA, RANGOON, & WASHINGTON — The United States is “deeply troubled” by the findings of a United Nations report that said soldiers in Arakan State had committed atrocities against minority Muslims, the US State Department said on Monday.

Washington was still studying the report, but urged the government “to take its findings seriously and redouble efforts to protect the local population,” a spokeswoman for the department, Katina Adams, said.

“We are deeply troubled by the findings,” Adams said, referring to the Feb. 3 report from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

The allegations should be investigated “in a thorough and credible manner,” and those responsible for any violations held accountable, she said, adding that Washington was continuing to call on the government to restore fully humanitarian and media access to the area.

The UN report issued on Friday said security forces had committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims and burned their villages since October in a campaign that “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.

On Sunday, diplomats and government officials from several nations held a closed-door meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh to discuss a plan to relocate hundreds of thousands of refugees from makeshift camps on the Burma-Bangladesh border to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.

Officials present at the meeting said that Burma’s government remains “in denial” about alleged crimes by its military against minority Rohingya Muslims.

“When Bangladesh cited the horrific acts by Burma’s law enforcing agencies, the Burma representative did not agree with this and was in complete denial,” said H.T. Imam, a political advisor to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who was at the meeting.

Three international diplomats also present at the Sunday meeting broadly corroborated that account to Reuters.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told the New York Times that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had appeared “genuinely moved” by the harrowing 43-page report, released on Friday, expressing no defensiveness or denial.

Daw Aye Aye Soe, deputy director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Reuters on Monday that Burma took the UN findings seriously and would investigate.

But she added that the country had been the victim of “disinformation, misinformation and fake news” on the issue that meant “the international community seems to have made up its mind”.

“We don’t know if these allegations are true,” said Daw Aye Aye Soe. “If we find that these allegations are true, we will take action.”

A Burma diplomat also complained at the meeting about Bangladesh’s description of the Rohingya refugees crossing the border as “undocumented Burma nationals.”

“Whether the person is a citizen or not would depend on verification by Burma and Bangladesh together. Without going through the process you can’t—one-sided—just label them as our citizens,” said Daw Aye Aye Soe.

“You should call them illegal migrants or undocumented people or illegal refugees or whatever.”

Burma has said the allegations contained in the UN report would be investigated by its own commission on Arakan, headed by Vice President U Myint Swe, a former general.

U Zaw Myint Pe, the secretary of that commission, said it had been unable to substantiate any allegations of rape in northern Arakan since it began its work in December.

Describing the testimony of one woman he said: “The way she was talking to us, it seemed like someone had been teaching her. It was difficult to accept that it must be true.”

U Zaw Myint Pe added that Rohingya villages were like “mazes,” where insurgents could easily shoot at troops, and the confusion caused might have resulted in acts of indiscipline.

“So the soldiers might be angry, there might be abuses of power from the government troops,” he said.