YANGON — Myanmar’s military chief has urged the country to unite over the “issue” of the Rohingya, a group he says has no roots in the country, and which his troops are accused of systematically purging.
The military says its “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State are aimed at taking out Rohingya militants who attacked police posts on August 25.
But the violence has engulfed the border region and triggered an exodus of more than 400,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh, where they have told of soldiers slaughtering civilians and burning down entire villages.
UN leaders have described the campaign as having all the hallmarks of “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya.
The status of the Muslim minority has long been an explosive topic in Myanmar, where many view the group as foreign interlopers from Bangladesh and deny the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity, insisting they be called “Bengalis”.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s globe-trotting army chief, trumpeted that view in comments posted on his official Facebook page Saturday.
“They have demanded recognition as Rohingya, which has never been an ethnic group in Myanmar. (The) Bengali issue is a national cause and we need to be united in establishing the truth,” the post said.
The defence of his army’s operations comes amid strident global condemnation of the violence, which has left Bangladesh with the overwhelming task of providing shelter and food to a rising tide of desperate refugees.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has also been castigated for failing to voice sympathy for the Rohingya — a group she has asked her government to refer to only as “Muslims of Rakhine State”.
Aung San Suu Kyi set to address the nation on the crisis for the first time Tuesday, a high stakes speech that many outside the country hope will explain her near silence on the crisis.