Myanmar says military operation in troubled Rakhine has ended

YANGON - Myanmar's military has ended a clearance operation in the country's troubled Rakhine State, government officials said, ending a four-month sweep that the United Nations said may amount to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.

The security operation had been under way since nine policemen were killed in attacks on security posts near the Bangladesh border on Oct. 9. Almost 69,000 Rohingyas have since fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh, according to UN estimates.

The violence has renewed international criticism that Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has done too little to help members of the Muslim minority.

Pressure on Myanmar over abuses of Rohingya minority in Rakhine

  • n this photograph taken on September 7, 2016, a minority Muslim Rohingya woman wearing traditional facial paste is seen at the Thet Kal Pyin displacement camp in Sittwe after the Rakhine State has been effectively split on religious grounds between Buddhists and Muslims since bouts of communal violence tore through the state in 2012, killing scores and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
  • Armed Myanmar border police scan the area during a patrol along the river dividing Myanmar and Bangladesh border located in Maungdaw, Rakhine State on October 15, 2016.
  • Rohingya Muslim men stand at U Shey Kya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar October 27, 2016.
  • Protesters shout slogans during a rally against former U.N. chief Kofi Annan in Sittwe, Myanmar, September 6, 2016. Annan arrived for a meeting with local officials and Muslim representatives to find a lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • A group of Myanmar Buddhist monks wait for the arrival of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan during a visit in Sittwe on September 6, 2016, to preside over a meeting of the multisector advisory commission on Rakhine State to find lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (background 3rd R), accompanied by multi-sector advisory commission on Rakhine State officials, holds a dialogue with Buddhist monks in Sittwe on September 6, 2016. Annan arrived for a meeting with local officials and Muslim representatives to find a lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • A Rohingya Muslim elder (centre L, in white) speaks while others listen during a meeting with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (not pictured) while a policeman (R) takes notes at Thet Kay Pyin camp for displaced Rohingya families in Sittwe on September 7, 2016.
  • Rohingya Muslims gather at Thet Kay Pyin camp during a visit by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (not pictured) at the camp for displaced Rohingya families in Sittwe on September 7, 2016. Annan is leading the multi-sector advisory commission on Rakhine State to find a lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • In this photograph taken on September 7, 2016, a minority Muslim Rohingya child wearing traditional facial paste is seen in a shelter at the Thet Kal Pyin displacement camp in Sittwe after the Rakhine State has been effectively split on religious grounds between Buddhists and Muslims since bouts of communal violence tore through the state in 2012, killing scores and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
  • Allegations that Myanmar soldiers are killing, raping and torturing villagers in Rakhine, a restive region that is home to the persecuted Muslim Rohingya, must be independently investigated, rights groups said.
  • Northern Rakhine has been under a military lockdown since an attack on border guards three weeks ago left nine policeman dead.
  • The government has blamed the raids on Rohingya militants and a search for the culprits has seen more than 30 people killed and dozens arrested, according to official reports.
  • Stories of grave abuse by security officers - including sexual violence, summary executions and the torching of villages - have spiralled on social media but are difficult to verify with the army barring rights groups and journalists from the remote region bordering Bangladesh.
  • On Friday Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch joined calls for an impartial investigation into the allegations, which the UN has called "alarming and unacceptable".
  • "If Myanmar's security forces are not involved in any human rights violations as the authorities claim, then they should have no trouble granting independent observers access," said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty's Southeast Asia and Pacific director.
  • Writing on Facebook Friday, government spokesman Zaw Htay dismissed an article in the Myanmar Times that described reports of a "mass rape" in a Rohingya village on October 19.
  • "There was information that some attackers were kept in that village. So security was taken very seriously and (the search team) was very careful about being safe and would not think to rape up to 5 women," he wrote.
  • The government says the October 9 border raids were carried out by hundreds of Rohingya fighters linked to Taliban-trained Islamists.
  • If true, it would mark a troubling development in a religiously-split region where the stateless Rohingya have languished under years of repression but so far shown little interest in jihadist ideology.
  • Rakhine has sizzled with tension ever since waves of communal violence in 2012 killed more than 100 and pushed tens of thousands of people, mostly Rohingya, into destitute displacement camps.
  • Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar insist the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and viscerally oppose any moves to grant them citizenship.
  • The recent upsurge in violence deepens and complicates a conflict that already posed a top challenge to a new civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who has disappointed rights groups by not coming out in stronger support of the Rohingya.
  • In this handout photograph released by the Myanmar Armed Forces on October 14, 2016, Myanmar Air Force air force personel evacuate teachers and civil servants with a military helicopter from Maungdaw in Rakhine State on October 13, 2016.
  • Rohingya Muslim boys stand at U Shey Kya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state
  • Men walk at a Rohingya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state
  • Rakhine Buddhists who fled from recent violence in Maungdaw pass their time in a temporary shelter at a stadium in Sittwe, Myanmar, October 25, 2016.
  • In this photo taken on October 15, 2016, armed Myanmar border guard patrol the border area along the river dividing Myanmar and Bangladesh located in Maungdaw, Rakhine State following attacks that killed nine border police. The government says the October 9 border raids were carried out by hundreds of Rohingya fighters linked to Taliban-trained Islamists. Rights groups are piling pressure on Myanmar to allow an impartial probe into allegations that soldiers are killing, raping and torturing villagers in a security crackdown in Rakhine, a restive region home to the persecuted Muslim Rohingya.

The government led by Nobel laureate Suu Kyi has denied almost all allegations of human rights abuses in Rakhine, including mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims, and said the operation was a lawful counterinsurgency campaign.

"The situation in northern Rakhine has now stabilised. The clearance operations undertaken by the military have ceased, the curfew has been eased and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace," newly-appointed national security advisor Thaung Tun was quoted as saying in a statement released by State Counselor's Office late on Wednesday.

"There can be no excuse for excessive force, for abuses of fundamental human rights and basic criminality. We have shown that we are ready to act where there is clear evidence of abuses," he told a group of diplomats and UN representatives in a meeting, according to the statement.

Two senior officials from Myanmar's President Office and the Ministry of Information confirmed that the army operation in northern Rakhine had ended but said the military force remained in the region to maintain "peace and security".

Myanmar military did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

The military and police have separately set up a team to investigate alleged crimes after Suu Kyi promised to probe UN allegations of atrocities against the Muslim minority.

More than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims may have been killed in the crackdown, two senior UN officials dealing with refugees fleeing the violence told Reuters last week.

A Myanmar presidential spokesman has said the latest reports from military commanders were that fewer than 100 people had been killed in the counterinsurgency operation.

Rohingya Muslims have faced discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for generations. They are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, entitled only to limited rights and some 1.1 million of them live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Myanmar.

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