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The military has ended a clearance operation in Burma’s troubled Arakan State, government officials said, ending a four-month sweep that the United Nations said may amount to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.
The security operation had been under way since nine policemen were killed in attacks on security posts near the Bangladesh border on 9 October. Almost 69,000 Rohingya have since fled from Burma to Bangladesh, according to UN estimates.
The violence has renewed international criticism that Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi has done too little to help members of the Muslim minority.
The government led by Nobel laureate Suu Kyi has denied almost all allegations of human rights abuses in Arakan State, including mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims, and said the operation was a lawful counterinsurgency campaign.
“The situation in northern Rakhine [Arakan] has now stabilised. The clearance operations undertaken by the military have ceased, the curfew has been eased and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace,” newly appointed national security adviser Thaung Tun was quoted as saying in a statement released by the State Counsellor’s Office late on Wednesday.
“There can be no excuse for excessive force, for abuses of fundamental human rights and basic criminality. We have shown that we are ready to act where there is clear evidence of abuses,” he told a group of diplomats and UN representatives in a meeting, according to the statement.
Two senior officials from Burma’s President Office and the Ministry of Information confirmed that the army operation in northern Arakan had ended but said the military force remained in the region to maintain “peace and security.”
The Burmese military did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
The military and police have separately set up a team to investigate alleged crimes after Suu Kyi promised to probe UN allegations of atrocities against the Muslim minority.
More than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims may have been killed in the crackdown, two senior UN officials dealing with refugees fleeing the violence told Reuters last week.
A presidential spokesman has said the latest reports from military commanders were that fewer than 100 people had been killed in the counterinsurgency operation.
Rohingya Muslims have faced discrimination in Buddhist-majority Burma for generations. They are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, entitled only to limited rights and some 1.1 million of them live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Burma.