Military denies crimes and says MPs ‘turning a blind eye to real situation’ after letter demanding sanctions
Rohingya Muslims crossing the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh near Palong Khali.
Rohingya Muslims crossing the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh near Palong Khali. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Rakhine state to Bangladesh. Photograph: Bernat Armangue/AP
Myanmar’s military has accused British MPs of making “one sided-accusations” about the plight of the Rohingya and denied that any violence, extrajudicial killings, rape and arson was committed in Rakhine state.
Dozens of British MPs have signed a letter demanding that the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and the EU sanction Myanmar over the campaign of violence committed against its minority Muslim community.
In a statement responding to the letter, the army rejected all responsibility for the crimes committed and said MPs were “turning a blind eye to the real situation”.
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Since August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh from Rakhine state. Thousands of people have been killed, villages have been burned to the ground and women subjected to sexual abuse and rape over months of violence. The UN has described the army’s actions as having the “hallmarks of genocide” and Amnesty has accused it of crimes against humanity.
In its latest denial of wrongdoing, the military reiterated its argument that the conflict was ignited by “illegal Bengali immigrants”. It accuses the Rohingya militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) of committing “genocide and ethnic cleansing on a minority of ethnic people in Buthidaung-Maungtaw region”.
According to “hard evidence” the military allegedly collected, it claims that between 10,000 and 20,000 Rohingya took part in attacks on police in August 2017 – a vastly different figure from the military’s estimate of 1,000 Rohingya insurgents at the time.
It also claimed to have done an investigation of its own into the violence in Rakhine, which concluded that “security personnel did not commit extrajudicial killings or sexually abuse and rape women. There was no unlawful detention of people, beating, killing and arson as well.”
In the case of Rohingya villages that had been burned down, “Arsa extremist Bengali terrorists set fire to houses and fled to Bangladesh first. They also threatened, coerced and persuaded other villagers to flee to Bangladesh, and many fled as a result,” the military’s own investigation found.
The military’s denial directly contradicts mountains of evidence collected by organisations such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch as well as multiple reports in the media, with two Reuters journalists on trial in Myanmar for their investigations into mass graves.
On Monday, Andrew Gilmour, the UN assistant secretary general for human rights, who had been on a four-day visit to the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, said the ethnic cleansing was continuing.
“It’s not often that you see a bald-faced lie of this magnitude, but then again, the Tatmadaw [armed forces] have a lot of experience in having no shame – since they’ve been covering up their human rights atrocities for decades,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, Human Rights Watch.
“Statements like these indicate why the international community must prioritise hauling senior general Min Aung Hlaing and other Burmese military commanders before the international criminal court to stand trial for the crimes against humanity they’ve ordered or committed.”
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director, said: “The Myanmar military’s denials of violence against the Rohingya is a blatant lie. This is just more denial on top of denial.”