Myanmar's army released a report on Monday denying all allegations of rape and killings by security forces, having days earlier replaced the general in charge of the operation that drove more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
No reason was given for Major General Maung Maung Soe being transferred from his post as the head of Western Command in Rakhine state, where Myanmar's military, known as the Tatmadaw, launched a sweeping counter-insurgency operation in August.
‘I don't know the reason why he was transferred,’ Major General Aye Lwin, deputy director of the psychological warfare and public relation department at the Ministry of Defence, told Reuters. ‘He wasn't moved into any position at present. He has been put in reserve.’
A senior UN official, who had toured the refugee camps in Bangladesh, on Sunday accused Myanmar's military of conducting organised mass rape and other crimes against humanity.
The Myanmar military said its own internal investigation had exonerated security forces of all accusations of atrocities. The investigators' findings were posted on the Facebook page of the military's commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
The developments came ahead of a visit on Wednesday by US secretary of state Rex Tillerson. He is expected to deliver a stern message to Myanmar's generals, over whom national leader Aung San Suu Kyi has little control.
A spokeswoman for the US State Department, Katina Adams, said the United States was aware of reports of the general's replacement and added:
‘We remain gravely concerned by continuing reports of violence and human rights abuses committed by Burmese security forces and vigilantes. Those responsible for abuses must be held accountable.’
Lawmakers in Washington are pressing to pass legislation imposing economic and travel sanctions targeting the military and its business interests.
In an op-ed in Britain's Guardian newspaper on Monday, Republican Representative Steve Chabot and Democratic Representative Joseph Crowley said it was time to ‘expeditiously’ impose sanctions.
‘The US needs to send a clear message that there is no excuse for a cruel, extensive and grossly disproportionate crackdown on civilians,’ they said.
The government in mostly Buddhist Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, regards the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Leaders of Asian nations meeting in Manila on Monday skirted around the exodus of the Rohingya, disappointing human rights groups who were hoping for a tough stand.
Maung Maung Soe's transfer was ordered on Friday and Brigadier General Soe Tint Naing, formerly a director in logistics, was appointed as the new head of Western Command.
Made up of three divisions, Western Command is overseen by the Bureau of Special Operations, which reports to the office of Min Aung Hlaing.
A senior UN official, UN high commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, has described the army's actions in Rakhine as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar says the clearance operation was necessary for national security after Rohingya militants attacked 30 security posts and an army base in the state on Aug. 25. The internal investigation put the number of fighters involved in the attacks at over 10,000, more than doubling an earlier official estimate.
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