Myanmar army chief says Rohingya Muslims ‘not natives,’ numbers fleeing exaggerated

By Robert Birsel and Wa Lone

YANGON (Reuters) – 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.

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

Thousands of Rohingya were leaving the state on Thursday, aiming to reach Bangladesh by boat, citing a shortage of food and fear of repression, residents said. A Myanmar official said people were leaving but he dismissed the suggestion hunger and intimidation were factors.

The army chief, 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 mostly stateless 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.”

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

The U.N. rights office said…

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