Indonesia's envoy sees no evidence of Rohingya mass graves

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Indonesia’s envoy to Myanmar claims not to have found any evidence of ethnic cleansing after participating in a recent visit to Rakhine state sanctioned by the Myanmar government to disprove reports of new mass graves and of atrocities allegedly committed by police and military.

The government of Myanmar hosted a limited group of foreign diplomats last Friday to visit the Taung Phyo Litwe and Nga Khu Ya villages in northern Rakhine where it has built reception centers for the Rohingya refugees who are to be repatriated from Bangladesh. The Myanmar government claimed it constructed the reception centers and temporary transit camps as part of its commitment to the recommendations of a commission on Rakhine chaired by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan.

As one of the few envoys who were invited on the trip, outgoing Indonesian Ambassador to Myanmar Ito Sumardi said he did not see any mass graves or any indication that Myanmar’s authorities would have committed acts amounting to ethnic cleansing.

Touting his past experiences leading an Indonesian peacekeeping mission during the Bosnian genocide of the mid-1990s, Ito said he would have known what a mass grave would look like.

“We have met the locals who denied it, including the 700 people of the Rohingya ethnicity who still live there,” Ito told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The envoy said, however, that the centers and camps were built quite far from where the crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces took place.

While he said he was not defending Naypyidaw’s actions, Ito insisted the conflict should be seen as a result of attacks on police posts by a band of rebels who have since been named a terrorist group.

“We [...] can’t immediately say there has been abuse of power — it very well may be abuse of power, but we have to question to whom it was directed,” he said, adding the Myanmar government had named the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army the culprit.

Reporters are not allowed access to the area in the north of Rakhine. The army launched a sweeping counteroffensive there in response to the Rohingya militant attacks last year.

More than 750,000 Rohingya have been driven to Bangladesh to flee persecution since August, according to Agence France-Presse. Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed last month to repatriate the Rohingya over a period of two years, but has the commencement has stalled. The UN has condemned the army’s campaign as “textbook ethnic cleansing”, but Myanmar denies that, saying its forces were carrying out legitimate counterinsurgency operations. Naypyidaw has prevented the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar from entering Rakhine.

The diplomatic group also visited the Hla Pho Khaung transit shelter, Ito said. The place is equipped with security posts, health services and employs doctors and nurses.

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