Myanmar’s military has assured the United Nations of “harsh” action against perpetrators of sexual violence, state media reported on Tuesday, as U.N. envoys traveled to Rakhine State where the military conducted a widely criticized crackdown.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled from Rakhine State to Bangladesh to flee a military crackdown launched in August that the United Nations and others denounced as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Many of the refugees arriving in Bangladesh recounted incidents of killings and rape but Myanmar largely rejected those reports as well as the accusation of ethnic cleansing.
It said its forces were engaged in a legitimate security campaign in response to a string of Rohingya insurgents attacks on the security forces.
The Security Council envoys arrived in Myanmar on Monday after visiting refugee camps on the Bangladesh side of the border, and government leaders in Dhaka.
In Myanmar, they met separately with Myanmar government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.
“Sexual violence (is) considered as despicable acts,” the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper cited Min Aung Hlaing as telling the envoys.
The military was “taking harsh and stronger actions against such offenders”, he said.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, in her meeting with the envoys, pledged to investigate any credible accusations of abuse, said diplomats who attended.
During the nearly hour-long meeting, Suu Kyi, noted Myanmar’s difficulties in transitioning to rule of law after decades of military dictatorship, said the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Suu Kyi’s civilian government has no control over the military.
Myanmar civilian government spokesman Zaw Htay was not immediately available for comment.
Tuesday is the final day of a four-day visit to the region by the U.N. Security Council team.
The Security Council asked Myanmar in November to ensure no “further excessive use of military force” and to allow “freedom of movement, equal access to basic services, and equal access to full citizenship for all”.
Earlier on Monday, the council envoys met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who asked them to press Myanmar to take back “their citizens”.
Hasina said the refugees should return “under U.N. supervision where security and safety should be ensured”.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete the voluntary repatriation of the refugees within two years but differences between the two sides remain and implementation of the plan has been slow.
Suu Kyi’s office also said in a statement that cooperation was needed from Bangladesh on the repatriation of refugees.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has for years denied Rohingya citizenship, freedom of movement and access to basic services such as healthcare. Many in Myanmar regard Rohingya as illegal immigrants from mostly Muslim Bangladesh.