TOKYO, Japan – Myanmar’s ambassador to Japan said Thursday there is no ethnic cleansing or genocide of Rohingya Muslims in his country despite violence that has led a half million of them to flee the country.
Myanmar security forces responded to Rohingya militant attacks with a broad crackdown in August in Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled across the border in what the United Nations has called “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
The ambassador, Thurain Thant Zin, denied reports of human rights abuses in Rakhine by the military and told reporters in Tokyo that his government was providing humanitarian aid to all affected by the violence.
“To say the Myanmar military conducted those illegal acts is untrue and cannot be true,” he said.
“The Myanmar government protests the use of such terms as ethnic cleansing and genocide,” he said.
The ambassador said the government is prepared to help resettle all who have fled.
“Some people have said they are too afraid to return to their original homes and want a new place to live,” he said. “We have promised the Myanmar government will provide support for reconstruction.”
Myanmar’s Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya Muslims are a separate ethnic group and regards them as “Bengalis” who migrated illegally from Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s military commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, also denied that large numbers of people had fled.
“It is an exaggeration to say that the number of Bengalis fleeing to Bangladesh is very large,” he said in a statement issued in Myanmar after he met Wednesday with U.S. Ambassador Scott Marciel.
He also denied there was ethnic cleansing, saying the refugees “might have fled because they feel insure” following the earlier attacks by militant Rohingya.
A report by the U.N. human rights office released Wednesday said attacks against the Rohingya and widespread burning of villages reflected a strategy of instilling “widespread fear and trauma” to prevent those displaced from ever returning to their homes.
The attacks against Rohingya by security forces and Buddhist mobs were “co-ordinated and systematic,” with the intent of not only driving the population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning, the report said.
Thurain Thant Zin insisted only crime and terrorist attacks were to blame, not ethnic or religious tensions.
“Up to today, Myanmar has no ethnic or religious problems,” he said, despite civil strife in Rahkine and elsewhere. He said the issue is one of immigration and that in most communities in the region Buddhists, Muslims and other minorities lived peacefully together.
By Elaine Kurtenbach, The Associated Press