Myanmar’s army chief has said during a meeting with the US ambassador to the country that Rohingya Muslims subjected to persecution by government forces in western Rakhine state were not native to Myanmar.
During the meeting on Thursday, Min Aung Hlaing, who referred to Rohingya by the term “Bengali,” said that British colonialists were responsible for the problem.
Myanmar’s government brands the 1.1 million-strong Rohingya population as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh even as their roots in the country go back centuries.
According to the account of the meeting, the military chief fell short of addressing accusations of abuses by his men against the Muslim community in Rakhine, but accused the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants of killing 90 Hindus and 30 Rohingya linked to the government.
Elsewhere in his remarks, the general said it was an exaggeration to say a “very large” number of people were fleeing to Bangladesh and that there had been “instigation and propaganda by using the media from behind the scene.”
According to a recent agreement approved by EU ambassadors and set to be signed off at a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday, the EU is to cut ties with senior Myanmar military chiefs to protest the “disproportionate use of force” against the Rohingya.
The United Nations said in a Wednesday report that Myanmar’s “systematic” crackdown on the persecuted Rohingya community was aimed at permanently expelling them from their home in Rakhine state.
The report published by the UN detailed a campaign by Myanmar’s military to terrorize the Rohingya through atrocities that range from indiscriminate killings to rape.
The latest UN report is based on interviews with refugees who have fled to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar area since August 25. The UN team spoke to hundreds of people in a series of 65 interviews, some with individuals and some with groups of up to 40 people.
UN figures show more than half a million people have fled the ongoing violence. The Rohingya are considered by the UN as the “most persecuted minority group in the world.”
Thousands of Rohingya were leaving the state on Thursday aiming to reach Bangladesh by boat amid a shortage of food and fear of repression.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has described the crackdown as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return.”