Myanmar military investigation into alleged atrocities against Rohingyas is a “whitewash”, says rights group Amnesty International, calling for UN and independent investigators to be allowed into the country.
“Once again, Myanmar's military is trying to sweep serious violations against the Rohingya under the carpet," said James Gomez, Amnesty International's Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific in a statement yesterday.
More than 600,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a counter-insurgency clearance operation in Rakhine State that a top UN official has called a classic case of “ethnic cleansing”.
Accusations of organised mass rape and other crimes against humanity were leveled at the Myanmar military on Sunday by another senior UN official, who had toured camps in Bangladesh where Rohingya refugees have taken shelter.
Myanmar's military has consistently claimed its innocence, and on Monday it posted the findings of an internal investigation on the Facebook page of its commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
It said it had found no instances where its soldiers had shot and killed Rohingya villagers, raped women or tortured prisoners. It denied that security forces had torched Rohingya villages or used “excessive force”.
AI, on the other hand, said with more than 600,000 women, men and children having fled Rakhine State in recent months fearing for their lives, there is overwhelming evidence that the military has murdered and raped Rohingya and burned their villages to the ground.
"After recording countless stories of horror and using satellite analysis to track the growing devastation we can only reach one conclusion: these attacks amount to crimes against humanity," James Gomez said.
“The Myanmar military has made clear it has no intention of ensuring accountability; it's now up to the international community to step up to ensure these appalling abuses do not go unpunished.
The full extent of the violations against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities will not be known until the UN Fact-Finding Mission and other independent observers are given unfettered access to Myanmar, and in particular Rakhine State,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the commanding officer in Rakhine State, Major General Maung Maung Soe was replaced. No reason for his transfer was given, but a senior officer with the military's media department told Reuters, Maung Maung Soe had no new assignment, and had been placed on a reserve list, Reuters reports.
A spokeswoman for the US State Department, Katina Adams, said the United States was aware of reports of the general's replacement.
“We remain gravely concerned by continuing reports of violence and human rights abuses committed by Burmese security forces and vigilantes. Those responsible for abuses must be held accountable,” Adams said.
According to Reuters, the Myanmar military's internal probe said that according to 2,817 people interviewed from 54 Rohingya villages, the soldiers did not fire on "innocent villagers", rape or commit sexual violence against women.
Nor were there any killings or beating of villagers, and the security forces did not carry out any looting or set fire to Rohingya mosques, it said.
The report also concluded that security forces only used light arms in clashes with Rohingya militants and there were no findings to suggest the use of "excessive force".
It also blamed the militants for setting fire to the villages and frightening and coercing people to leave their homes.
Suu Kyi has said that any alleged atrocities should be substantiated and investigated, while her government is working to stabilise Rakhine in order for the Rohingyas to return.
Myanmar, however, is refusing entry to a UN panel that was tasked with investigating allegations of abuses after a smaller military counteroffensive launched in October 2016.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to visit Myanmar today
The military's self-exoneration came as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prepared to visit Myanmar today for talks with leaders.
Both Tillerson and Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of a less than two-year-old civilian administration that has no control over the military, are attending a regional summit in Manila.
With US senators back in Washington pressing to impose economic sanctions and travel restrictions targeting the military and its business interests, Tillerson is expected to deliver a stern message to Myanmar's generals, while supporting the transition to democracy.
Suu Kyi discussed the Rohingya crisis with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the Southeast Asian leaders' summit in Manila.
“The secretary-general highlighted that strengthened efforts to ensure humanitarian access, safe, dignified, voluntary and sustained returns, as well as true reconciliation between communities, would be essential,” a UN representative said in brief note on the meeting.
MAY CALLS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY
British Prime Minister Theresa May said in foreign policy address on Monday that Myanmar's military should be called to account.
“This is a major humanitarian crisis which looks like ethnic cleansing,” she said in a speech delivered at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in the City of London.
“And it is something for which the Burmese authorities - and especially the military - must take full responsibility.”
As new accounts emerged of atrocities in Rakhine state, where government forces claim to be targeting "terrorists," Downing Street called on Myanmar's government to permit access for aid agencies, reports CNN.
UN CHIEF VOICES CONCERN
Addressing the ninth Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)-United Nations Summit in Manila on Monday, Secretary-General António Guterres voiced deep concern over the displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
“I cannot hide my deep concern with the dramatic movement of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh. It is a worrying escalation in a protracted tragedy and a potential source of instability in the region, and radicalisation,” he said.
Since the beginning of the crisis, and beyond the end of violence, the UN chief reiterated his call for unhindered humanitarian access to affected communities; and the right to safe, voluntary and dignified return of those who fled, to their places of origin.
The United Nations welcomes constructive approaches by ASEAN, including the provision of humanitarian aid to northern Rakhine.
Speaking in Dhaka on Sunday, Pramila Patten, the UN special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, said she would raise accusations against the Myanmar military with the International Criminal Court in Hague.
“Sexual violence is being commanded, orchestrated and perpetrated by the armed forces of Myanmar,” she said following a three-day tour of the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazar.