Myanmar’s government is “following the law” in the country’s conflict-ridden Rakhine state, the chairman of an investigation commission examining the behavior of the military during security operations in Muslim-majority areas said on Wednesday, amid ongoing accusations that soldiers committed atrocities among civilians.
Vice President Myint Swe, who heads the 13-member commission probing a series of deadly militant attacks on security forces that occurred on Oct. 9 and Nov. 12 and 13, said the national army is carrying out area-clearing operations in accordance with existing rules and regulations, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the State Counselor’s Office.
Local Rohingya Muslims have accused security forces that swept into northern Rakhine’s Maungdaw township following the initial attacks of murder, torture, rape and arson.
The violence has left nearly 90 dead and forced about 27,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, according to the latest figures from the United Nations.
Myint Swe’s comments came after the commission ended a trip to Maungdaw township, where they visited Kyet-yo-byin village to investigate cases of rape and child murders, as reported by two foreign news organizations, the statement said.
Villagers told the commission they had no knowledge of the crimes and that military commanders in the area said there were no rapes reported and that they were carrying out their tasks in accordance with the law, it said.
Release those detained
Rohingya villagers also told the commission members they wanted family members detained for questioning by security forces to be released if they have not yet been charged with a crime.
Commission members told them that the government had released 49 detainees since clashes with militants began, the statement said.
The government has previously said that nearly 90 were killed in the violence and almost 600 people believed to be involved in the attacks had been arrested.
The Myanmar government has come under fire both internationally and regionally for its handling of the Rakhine crisis and what is perceived to be its failure to protect the Rohingya.
Rohingya who live in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan have staged protests in recent weeks against the Myanmar government, which views the Rohingya as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
The government has denied reports of atrocities by the military and has called an emergency meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting next week to discuss the crisis.
The estimated 1.1 million Rohingya in Rakhine—about 120,000 of whom are confined to internally displaced persons camps—are denied citizenship and access to jobs, health care, and education.
A history without the Rohingya
In a related move, Myanmar’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture will publish a history asserting that the Rohingya are not among the country’s indigenous races, the ministry’s deputy director Arkar Kyaw said.
The news, which the ministry posted on Facebook on Monday, has gained widespread support from people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
The ministry will enlist the help of Myanmar history scholars and require approval from President Htin Kyaw and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi when the project is completed, said Minister Thura Aung Ko.
Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law excluded the Rohingya from country’s list of 135 national races and stripped them of the citizenship they had enjoyed in the years after the country then known as Burma gained independence from Britain.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.