Myanmar’s army on Tuesday cleared itself of allegations that troops may have carried out ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, but said a soldier had been jailed for taking a motorbike.
More than 70,000 members of the persecuted minority fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after the military launched a widespread crackdown late last year in the north of Rakhine state to hunt down insurgents who attacked police border posts.
UN investigators who interviewed hundreds of escapees documented reports of mass killings, widespread rapes and horrifying accounts of babies being thrown into burning houses.
In a report released in February they said security forces may have committed atrocities so severe they amount to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
But on Tuesday the military said the results of its own investigation, led by army chief Aye Win, showed those charges were “false and fabricated”.
“Out of 18 accusations included in the OHCHR report, 12 were found to be incorrect, with (the) remaining six accusations found to be false and fabricated accusations based on lies and invented statements,” said a report by the army’s ‘True News’ team carried in state media, using the abbreviation for the UN’s rights body.
One member of the security forces was, however, sentenced to a year in jail and fined for taking a motorbike without the knowledge of its owner, the statement said.
A village head and several villagers were also whipped and two people sent to prison for failing to help put out a fire.
Both the military and the civilian government led by Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi have denied allegations of widespread atrocities against the Rohingya and refused to allow in a UN fact-finding mission to investigate.
Instead the government, police and military have launched their own probes into the violence. These have been roundly criticised by rights groups as biased and lacking credibility.
The army said its investigators had interviewed 2,875 people from 29 villages, but did not say whether they were ethnic Rakhines or the Rohingya Muslims who make up the majority in northern Rakhine.
The Rohingya, stripped of citizenship by Myanmar’s then-military leaders in 1982, are loathed by many in the Buddhist-majority country, who claim they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refer to them as “Bengalis”.