HUMAN RIGHTS groups have accused the Tatmadaw army of Burma (Myanmar) of whitewashing after it claimed on Monday that its troops had not attacked any civilian Rohingya Muslims during so-called “clearing operations” in Rakhine State.
In reporting the findings of a supposed investigation posted to the Facebook page of the Tatmadaw True News Information Team, the Burmese military claimed that none of its soldiers had acted improperly in responding to attacks on security force outposts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on Aug 25.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh since then, 80 percent of whom are thought to be women and children. Burmese security forces and Buddhist vigilantes have been accused by many in the international community of mass killings, arson and rape.
But in its report on Monday, the Tatmadaw claimed that there had been “no deaths of innocent people”. It also denied widespread allegations of sexual violence against Rohingya women or burning down Muslim villages.
“Although the Bengali villages where the engagements took place were burning and women and children were fleeing their homes, not a single shot was fired on them,” it said, adding that 376 “terrorists” had been killed.
Burmese authorities refuse to use the term “Rohingya”, with which the community identifies, rather using the term “Bengali”. It is widely believed among the Buddhist-majority population that Rohingya are “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh, despite having resided in Burma for hundreds of years.
“The security forces were only fighting against the ARSA Bengali terrorists. They never shot at the innocent Bengalis,” said the army’s post, which claimed to have collected the accounts of 804 witnesses.
Amnesty International’s regional director for Southeast Asia James Gomez said in a statement that “once again, Myanmar’s military is trying to sweep serious violations against the Rohingya under the carpet … 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.”
Gomez said that satellite analysis had clearly tracked the “growing devastation” and that Amnesty believed Burma was committing “crimes against humanity”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also rejected the army’s supposed investigation, claiming that its findings were counter to satellite imagery, “extensive witness accounts” and other sources which documented “a campaign of ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya Muslim population.
“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,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said.
“The Burmese authorities have once again shown that they can’t and won’t credibly investigate themselves.”
Addressing the Rohingya crisis in September, Suu Kyi claimed that “Myanmar does not fear international scrutiny” and that human rights violations would be investigated and “addressed in accordance with strict norms of justice”.
Nevertheless, Burma has denied access to a specially created UN fact-finding mission as well as many international humanitarian organisations to operate in affected areas of the Rakhine.
A senior adviser to Suu Kyi named Win Htein was this week was quoted by the Washington Post as saying: “the extremists incited villagers to go away saying the Burma army would come and kill them. They killed Hindus and other ethnic minorities.”
“We could not find the death of any Muslim,” added Win Htein, who has been deemed the “godfather” of Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy. “There is no genocide or ethnic cleansing.”
A growing list of prominent international figures who has criticised Suu Kyi’s response to the crisis includes the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, and several fellow Nobel laureates such as Malala Yousafzai and Desmond Tutu.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was scheduled for a one-day visit to Burma on Wednesday, where he was expected to press for an end to violence in the Rakhine during meetings with Suu Kyi and the powerful Tatmadaw chief Min Aung Hlaing.