Myanmar says no crimes against humanity in Rakhine violence

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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The Myanmar government's inquiry into violence in northern Rakhine state last year that forced tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh and led to U.N. accusations of crimes against humanity by the army has concluded that no such crimes happened.

Speaking at the release of the Rakhine Investigative Commission's final report, Vice President Myint Swe — a former general — told reporters Sunday that "there is no evidence of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights claimed."

He also denied charges that there had been gang rapes by the military as it swept through Rohingya villages in a security clearance operation. The army was reacting to deadly attacks against border police posts by a previously unknown insurgent group in October 2016 in the Maungdaw area of Rakhine.

The commission's report did accept that some things might have happened that broke the law, attributing it to excessive action on the part of individual members of the security forces.

Rights groups have previously expressed their doubts over the commission's work, saying it lacked outside experts, had poor research methodologies and lacked credibility because it was not independent.

The U.N. has mandated its own fact-finding mission to travel to the Maungdaw area to conduct its own inquiry, but the government has said its members will not be allowed to go.

Zaw Myint Pe, a senior member of the government commission, said the report released by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in early February, which included accusations of rights abuses by security forces, had failed to take into consideration violent acts committed by Muslim groups.

"The report does not contain forward-looking constructive recommendations but instead accuses Myanmar of committing genocide and ethnic cleansing by killing Muslims and it is terribly affecting our country's image," said Zaw Myint Pe.

The government has shut down northern Rakhine, where allegations of rights abuses are ongoing, to independent journalists, rights experts and humanitarian workers for almost nine months. The security forces launched an aggressive clearance operation in Rakhine in October 2016 after shadowy insurgents killed nine border guard police officers.

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