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Thu, 12 Oct 2017 09:31 - Updated Thu, 12 Oct 2017 09:31

Myanmar army chief says Rohingya Muslims not native, refugee numbers exaggerated

YANGON - Rohingya Muslims are not native to Myanmar, the army chief told the U.S. ambassador in a meeting in which he apparently did not address accusations of abuses by his men and said media was complicit in exaggerating the number of refugees fleeing.

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Senior General Min Aung Hlaing gave his most extensive account of the Rohingya refugee crisis aimed at an international audience in the meeting with Ambassador Scot Marciel, according to a report posted on his Facebook page.

The general is the most powerful person in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and his apparently uncompromising stance would indicate little sensitivity about the military’s image over a crisis that has drawn international condemnation and raised questions about a transition to democracy under Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military campaign is popular in Myanmar, where there is little sympathy for the Rohingya, and where Buddhist nationalism has surged.

Min Aung Hlaing, referring to Rohingya by the term “Bengali”, which they regard as derogatory, said British colonialists were responsible for the problem.

“The Bengalis were not taken into the country by Myanmar, but by the colonialists,” he told Marciel, according to the account of the meeting posted on Thursday.

“They are not the natives, and the records prove that they were not even called Rohingya but just Bengalis during the colonial period.”

The U.N. human rights office said on Wednesday Myanmar security forces had brutally driven out half a million Rohingya from northern Rakhine state to Bangladesh, torching their homes, crops and villages to prevent them from returning.

Coordinated Rohingya insurgent attacks on some 30 security posts on Aug. 25 sparked a ferocious military response.

The U.N. rights office said in its report, based on 65 interviews with Rohingya who had arrived in Bangladesh, that abuses had begun before the Aug. 25 attacks and included killings, torture and rape of children.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley last month denounced what she called a “brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority” and called on countries to suspend providing weapons to Myanmar until its military puts sufficient accountability measures in place.

The European Union and the United States are considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders, officials familiar with the discussions said this week.

Suu Kyi is due make a speech on television later on Thursday.

She was swept into office last year after winning an election, but the military holds immense power, including exclusive say over security,REUTERS.

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