- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) - Myanmar’s military, under international pressure over alleged abuses against members of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, said Tuesday that official investigations failed to substantiate most accusations.

The military’s chief of general staff, Gen. Mya Tun Oo, said at a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, that the growing population of Rohingya in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, along with an increase in the number of religious leaders and mosques, disproved general allegations of genocide and religious persecution.

He said official investigations failed to find convincing evidence that widespread rape or other atrocities directed against civilians had taken place, but allegations that the army burned down thousands of homes were still under investigation.

The two-and-a-half-hour briefing, including PowerPoint presentations and video clips, was an unusually extensive event for the military, which is seeking to counter a wave of accusations against it. Mya Tun Oo discussed specific cases raised by human rights investigators, saying the government was unable to find firsthand or verifiable accounts that could confirm them. Critics have said the government cannot expect to conduct a credible investigation by itself and should allow an independent international investigation.

The government has barred independent media access to the Rohingya area of Rakhine since an army crackdown began in October after insurgents killed nine police guards along the border with Bangladesh. Human rights groups have said that satellite photos support their allegations of the mass burning of houses, which the government had earlier dismissed as the work of insurgents.

The U.N.’s human rights agency in early February issued a detailed report based on interviews with Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh alleging widespread rapes of women by Myanmar government security forces, as well as other atrocities.

On Monday, after a visit with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the U.N’s special envoy for human rights in Myanmar called for Myanmar’s government “to immediately cease the discrimination that the (Rohingya) community continues to face, to act now to prevent any further serious rights violations and to conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into those already alleged to have occurred.”

“The magnitude of violence that these families have witnessed and experienced is far more extensive than I had originally speculated,” Yanghee Lee said.

Western governments have also expressed concern about treatment of the Rohingya.

The estimated 1 million Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar face official and social discrimination. Most are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Many fled their homes during communal violence in 2012 and over 100,000 live in refugee camps.

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This story has been corrected to fix the rank of the military official to general.

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