Myanmar army rejects UN Rohingya abuse claims

A Rohingya refugee girl carries a baby inside a refugee camp in Sitwe, in the state of Rakhine, March 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Myanmar's government sees the Rohingya as immigrants and denies them citizenship

Myanmar's military has rejected allegations by the United Nations that it committed atrocities during its crackdown on Rohingya Muslims last year.

Some 65,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh as the military searched for those behind attacks on police border posts.

Many of those who fled described rapes, killings and other abuses by the army.

But the military said its own investigation found the claims were "false and fabricated".

"Out of 18 accusations included in the [UN human rights body] OHCHR report, 12 were found to be incorrect, with [the] remaining six accusations found to be false and fabricated accusations based on lies and invented statements," Myanmar's state media quoted a report from the military as saying.

The military said it interviewed 3,000 villagers and 184 military officers and troops.

Soldiers were disciplined over two cases, for stealing a motorbike and beating villagers with sticks for failing to put out a fire, the military said.

The crackdown began after insurgents killed nine policemen in attacks on border posts between Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and Bangladesh in Rakhine state. Reports then emerged that the military were targeting Rohingya indiscriminately.

The UN report in February - compiled from interviews with those who fled the violence - accused the military of abuses including gang-rapes, savage beatings and murder.

It described incidents in which children were killed as their mothers were raped by groups of soldiers, families - including pregnant women and the elderly - being beaten and houses set alight as people sheltered inside.

"The attacks against the Rohingya population in the area... seem to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity," the OHCHR report said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Attacks on border posts in October triggered an army crackdown that led tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee

'Not credible' - By Jonah Fisher, BBC News, Yangon

Nobody but the most die-hard supporters of the Burmese military will take this report seriously.

The evidence for what United Nations officials are calling "crimes against humanity" is overwhelming. Witness testimony from hundreds of Rohingya, satellite images of burnt villages and video of charred bodies to name just a few.

And then there's the small matter of explaining why more than 65,000 Rohingya decided to flee their homes and risk their lives crossing the Naf River into Bangladesh. Some of the men have gunshot wounds, scores of women have sought treatment for sexual violence.

A smart army response would have acknowledged some failings and promised to address them. Instead the Burmese military is denying everything.

How they arrived at that conclusion is unclear. The army investigators say they spoke to more than 3,000 people but they didn't travel to Bangladesh, so haven't heard from any of those who fled and told graphic horror stories to the United Nations.

After a period of relative quiet on Rakhine this report once again puts Aung San Suu Kyi in a difficult position.

For weeks she's been telling the world that Myanmar doesn't need a United Nations fact-finding mission, and that the Burmese can credibly investigate themselves. This report suggests the exact opposite.

Tensions between Rohingya Muslims and Myanmar's Buddhist majority have been rumbling for years.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar, which views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They face routine official and public discrimination.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya live in make-shift refugee camps after being displaced by communal violence in 2012.

In March, the UN human rights council began an investigation into alleged human rights abuses against Myanmar's Rohingya. It will report back in a year.

In April, however, Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi denied there was ethnic cleansing going on, saying using the term was "too strong".

She has faced international criticism over her perceived silence on the Rohingya issue.

More on this story