YANGON — The Myanmar Army denied atrocities and use of excessive force against Rohingya Muslims during clearance operations that sent more than 600,000 fleeing to Bangladesh.
The international community has condemned the army for arbitrary killing, rape, torture and the torching of Rohingya homes during the counter operations in northern Rakhine State in response to Muslim militant attacks on 30 police outposts in the area. The US and EU have reimposed sanctions against army leadership while the UN Security Council called for the army to stop all violence against the minority group.
The report came before the visit of the US Secretary of the State Rex Tillerson, who will arrive in Myanmar on Wednesday.
The report on an internal investigation led by Inspector-General of Defense Services Lt-Gen Aye Win was released on Monday evening, stating that a team spent nearly a month on the ground gathering information and interviewing nearly 3,000 people, including Rakhine, Hindu and ‘Bengali’ [the term used for the Rohingya in the report and many others in the country implying they are interlopers from Bangladesh].
The findings of the investigation state “all security members abided by the orders and directives of superior bodies, especially the rules of engagement-ROE in connection with the rights of self-defense and in discharging duties during the armed conflicts and anti-terrorist operations.”
“……the security forces opened fire with the use of small arms only without totally using heavy weapons, launchers and grenades. As such, the security forces abided by laws related to the wars in conducting area clearance operations. So, it is found that those security forces did not perform the use of excessive force,” it read.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday that the army’s claim is contrary to a growing body of evidence to the contrary, calling again for a UN fact-finding mission to be permitted in the region.
“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 HRW Asia Director Brad Adams. “The Burmese authorities have once again shown that they can’t and won’t credibly investigate themselves.”
The report states that 114 people have been arrested related to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the Muslim militant group that claimed responsibility for the August attacks and was later denounced as a terrorist group by the government.
“Members of security forces did not commit persecution against those persons in arresting. It was found that those Bengalis were exposed and arrested under provisions of the Geneva Convention and the law of wars,” the army statement said, while claiming denial of the arbitrary killings, rapes and arson based on interviews with the Rohingya. The statement continued with the spurious claim that members of the ARSA torched Rohingya homes before fleeing to Bangladesh.
Regarding the exodus, the investigation claimed that villagers were lured to Bangladesh by ARSA promises of aid and resettlement or fear of being labeled traitors if they chose not to flee.
The statement concluded that security forces would continue to seek information regarding the ARSA attacks and take action.
On Friday, Maj-Gen Maung Maung Soe, the head of Western Command in Rakhine State, was replaced by Brig-Gen Soe Tint Naing, formerly a director in logistics. But the army hasn’t provided any reason for the replacement yet.