Sun, Oct 15, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Myanmar army opens probe into soldiers’ conduct

Reuters, YANGON, Myanmar

Myanmar’s military has launched an internal probe into the conduct of soldiers during a counteroffensive that has sent more than half a million Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, many saying they witnessed killings, rape and arson by troops.

A committee led by Lieutenant-General Aye Win has begun an investigation into the behavior of military personnel, the office of the commander in chief said on Friday, adding that the operation was justified under Myanmar’s constitution.

On Facebook, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said the panel will ask: “Did they follow the military code of conduct? Did they exactly follow the command during the operation? After that [the committee] will release full information.”

Myanmar is refusing entry to a UN panel that was tasked with investigating allegations of abuses after a smaller military counteroffensive was launched in October last year.

However, domestic investigations, including a previous internal military probe, have largely dismissed refugees’ claims of abuses committed during security forces’ “clearance operations.”

Thousands of refugees have continued to arrive cross the Naf River separating Myanmar’s Rakhine State and Bangladesh, even though Myanmar says that military operations ceased on Sept. 5.

About 200,000 Rohingya were already in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, where they have long been denied citizenship and faced restrictions on their movements and access to basic services.

Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has pledged accountability for human rights abuses and says that Myanmar will accept back refugees who can prove they were residents.

However, the powerful army chief has taken a harder stance, this week telling the US ambassador in Myanmar that the exodus of Rohingya, who he said were non-native “Bengalis,” was exaggerated.

In comments to Japan’s ambassador carried in state media on Friday, Min Aung Hlaing denied that ethnic cleansing was taking place on the grounds that photographs showed Muslims “departing calmly rather than fleeing in terror.”

Former UN chief Kofi Annan, who led a commission set up by Aung San Suu Kyi to find solutions for the ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine, briefed the UN Security Council and other key states in an informal closed-door meeting on Friday.

Some council members are exploring if the 15-member body could agree to a formal statement or even a resolution to call for an end to the violence, for full aid access, the safe return of refugees, access for a UN fact-finding mission to ensure accountability and implementation of Annan’s recommendations.

Annan said that he hoped any possible council resolution “urges the government to really press ahead and create conditions that will allow the refugees to return in dignity and with a sense of security; they should not be returned to camps.”

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