The commander-in-chief of the Myanmar army Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has defended clearing Rohingya villages as an essential step in rooting out a band of “militants.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, General Hlaing described the ongoing crackdown against the Rohingya as “unfinished business” dating back to World War II.
He claimed that the army was pursuing its patriotic duty to preserve Myanmar’s borders and to prevent Rohingya insurgents from carving out their own territory in the northern Rakhine State.
The senior general was speaking with the press in the capital city of Naypyitaw on Friday.
Myanmar has come under criticism from the international community for its widespread violation of human rights in Rakhine state.
A small group of “militants,” armed with nothing but knives and spears, reportedly attacked several government outposts on August 25 this year. Armed forces of the country then responded to the attack with a disproportionate show of force.
The country’s brutal crackdown on a civilian minority community has drawn criticism from both the United Nations and the Vatican.
In a recent statement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described military action on the Rohingya community in Myanmar as genocide.
The army crackdown began after a small group of militants launched attacks against government outposts there on August 25.
Myanmar’s armed forces have responded with a disproportionate show of force, prompting the UN and the Vatican to voice concerns over the impact on the civilian population.
The UN has confirmed that more than 58,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh, joining around 500,000 other Rohingya refugees already residing here. Bangladesh is poorly equipped to receive them.
The USA-based organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirms that satellite images show dozens of Rohingya villages have been razed to the ground. “This new satellite imagery shows the total destruction of a Muslim village and prompts serious concerns that the level of destruction may be far worse than originally thought,” said HRW Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson.
The Myanmar army claims that around 400 people have been killed in the violence so far.
Army officials say the victims are mostly Rohingya militants belonging to a new group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Laureate de facto leader of Myanmar, has released a statement last week, blaming international aid agencies for helping Rohingya militants.
The Rohingya were denied citizenship and often are dismissed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh after Myanmar’s independence from Britain.
Many of the 1 million Rohingya who still live in Myanmar are restricted to tented camps where they rely on food and medical services provided by the UN and other groups.
Around 140 Rohingya were killed in clashes with the majority Buddhist population in 2012. The violence helped fuel a broader wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
Human-rights group Fortify Rights said that it interviewed two dozen survivors and eyewitnesses of attacks on Rohingya.
Survivors have described mass killings and beheadings perpetrated by the Myanmar army and police forces. In some instances, they said local Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes joined the security forces to commit these atrocities.
“The situation is dire. Mass atrocity crimes are continuing. The civilian government and military need to do everything in their power to immediately prevent more attacks,” said Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith.
Rohingya survivors in other areas claimed that militants, some dressed in black and armed with spears or knives, were preventing men and boys from leaving Rakhine state and urged them instead to fight back against the army.