- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, seeking reconciliation among ethnic groups in fractious western Myanmar, urged the army on Tuesday to respect civilians’ rights as concerns rise about treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Annan spoke after meeting with top officials and making a three-day trip to Rakhine state, where the army has been conducting aggressive sweeps since October, when unidentified armed men killed nine policemen manning posts along the border with Bangladesh.

Human rights groups accuse the army of abuses including rape, the killing of hundreds of civilians and the burning of villages. The army denies the allegations. But Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak led a rally Sunday against what he called “genocide” of Rohingya and urged Asian neighbors and the world to step up pressure to stop the violence.

Annan heads a commission appointed in August by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to recommend measures to ease tensions between the Muslim Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists in the Buddhist-majority nation. Inter-communal violence in 2012 killed hundreds and caused about 140,000 people - predominantly Rohingya - to take shelter in camps for the internally displaced. There are still 100,000 living in squalid conditions in the camps.

Annan, who was in Rakhine from Friday through Sunday, said in a statement that his group was “deeply concerned by the reports of alleged human rights abuses.”

He met Monday with President Htin Kyaw and Tuesday with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader. He also met Tuesday with army commander Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

“I made clear to him that it is important for the military to do what they are doing but the civilians also have their rights and they should be able to live a normal life,” Annan said at a news conference. “In my mind it’s very clear that the military has two important roles. Yes, it has the role to protect the state and the interest of the state, but also has a responsibility which is extremely important - security forces have to be careful in protecting civilian rights and rights of the civilian population.”

Referring to reports that aid groups were being barred from delivering assistance to the Rohingya population, Annan said his commission “also stressed that security operations must not impede humanitarian access to the population.” Annan said they were assured that access would be allowed for humanitarian assistance.

He also said he hoped that the media, barred from the area of the conflict in northern Myanmar, would soon be allowed access to help dispel rumors about the situation.

Annan declined to speak publicly about the credibility of reports of army abuses.

“We went to the region but we didn’t walk into a live conflict,” he said. “We did see houses which have been burned. You asked if we saw rape, that is not possible. We didn’t go there to investigate. That has to be investigated by those with expertise and knowledge. That wasn’t our role and so we cannot talk about that.”

“For the issue of genocide, this is a very serious charge,” he said. “It is a charge that requires legal review and judicial determination. It is not a charge that should be thrown around loosely.”

Many Rohingya, a minority of about 1 million among Myanmar’s 52 million people, have lived in Myanmar for generations, but most people in the country view them as foreign intruders from neighboring Bangladesh.


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