Myanmar army chief denies systematic persecution of Rohingya

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing cast doubt on U.N. estimates that some 730,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 February 2019

Myanmar army chief denies systematic persecution of Rohingya

  • "Criticism without any certain proof hurts the nation's dignity," Min Aung Hlaing said
  • Myanmar has consistently denied the accusations of murder, rape and other abuses by its forces

TOKYO: Myanmar's army chief, who is facing international calls that he be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, has denied any systematic army persecution and said such accusations were an insult to his country's honour.
In his first detailed interview since the Myanmar military launched a crackdown in 2017, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing cast doubt on U.N. estimates that some 730,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh, and on their accounts of abuses by his forces, saying the refugees had been told what to say.
"Criticism without any certain proof hurts the nation's dignity," Min Aung Hlaing told Japan's Asahi Shimbun daily in an interview published on Friday.
Myanmar forces launched their offensive in Rakhine State in 2017 in response to a series of attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security posts near the Bangladesh border.
A U.N. fact-finding mission last year said the military campaign, which refugees say included mass killings and rape, was orchestrated with "genocidal intent" and recommended charging Min Aung Hlaing and five other generals with the "gravest crimes under international law".
A U.N. rights investigator said last month that Min Aung Hlaing and others should be held accountable for genocide against the Rohingya and doing so was necessary before refugees could return.
Myanmar has consistently denied the accusations of murder, rape and other abuses by its forces though Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged that "a number of security men may have been involved".
Min Aung Hlaing, in the interview on Thursday in the Myanmar capital, Naypyitaw, raised questions not only about the number of people who had fled, but also about their motives.
"It's possible to think that the reasons they moved to Bangladesh were things like living with relatives or fleeing to a third country," he said.
"All of them are saying the same thing, which I believe somebody told them to say."
The Rohingya have faced discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for generations.
They are generally regarded as illegal immigrants from South Asia and few of them have Myanmar citizenship.
Many have sought better lives elsewhere in Asia while occasional military crackdowns over the decades have sent waves of people fleeing to Bangladesh.
The U.N. Human Rights Council in September voted to set up an "ongoing independent mechanism" for Myanmar that would collect, consolidate, and preserve evidence of crimes that could be used in any eventual court case.
Myanmar has said it "absolutely rejects" that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction to rule on its actions, a point Min Aung Hlaing repeated in the interview.
Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the Hague-based court.
"We will not accept any instructions that threaten Myanmar's sovereignty," he said.


Philippines begins termination of US deal

Earlier, Duterte said he would give the US a month to restore Dela Rosa’s visa. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2020

Philippines begins termination of US deal

  • The move comes after Washington’s refusal to issue a visa to ally of President Duterte

MANILA: The Philippines has started the process of terminating the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows the deployment of US forces to the country to conduct military exercises, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced on Friday.
The move comes one day after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to do away with the agreement if the US did not reinstate the visa of his political ally and former police chief, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.
Although in a speech on Thursday night the president said he would give the US one month to restore Dela Rosa’s visa before terminating the VFA, Panelo told reporters the process had already begun.
“The President feels that we cannot sit down and watch idly,” he said, adding he had relayed the matter to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin.
Locsin, in a Twitter post on Friday, confirmed he had called Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana “to start the process of terminating the VFA.”
Lorenzana, in a statement on Friday evening, said that he would discuss with the president “the various scenarios concerning the possible termination of the VFA, and what future actions may be undertaken by the Department of National Defense (DND) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) regarding this matter.”
The defense chief said he could understand why the president was angered by the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa, over alleged extrajudicial killings in connection with the government’s anti-drug war.
“It is a direct affront to (the president) being the architect of the drug war upon his assumption of office,” the defense chief said.
He noted that Duterte ordered Dela Rosa when he was installed as police chief in 2016 to launch the drug war, and promised to back him. “He is just being true to his promise,” Lorenzana stressed.
Dela Rosa himself said details surrounding the revocation of his US visa remain unclear to him. He added that it “might be related” to the anti-drug war.
The Philippines Department of Justice said it was studying the “proper procedure to terminate the VFA.”
Responses from Philippine lawmakers have been mixed.
“In the absence of a Philippines Supreme Court ruling on the president’s power to unilaterally break a treaty or bilateral agreement like the VFA, without the consent of a 2/3 supermajority vote of the members of the senate, the president can do that without the senate’s approval or consent,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the VFA termination would work in favor of China, and so did not come as a surprise.
According to Lorenzana: “The termination of the VFA may be unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, and it is well within the right of the government to do so if it determines that the agreement no longer redounds to our national interest.
“Such a termination does not need the approval of the Philippine Congress. All that is required is that a notice of termination be served to the US government. The termination shall take effect 180 days after the date of the notice,” the defense chief stressed.