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Myanmar military ends crackdown against Rohingya

The office of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has said the military has formally ended its counterinsurgency operations in Rakhine. The announcement follows a UN report accusing troops of mass killings and gang rapes.

Myanmar's military has ended its counterinsurgency operations in the troubled Rakhine State, government officials said on Thursday.

The announcement ends a four-month military sweep that the United Nations has warned amounts to crimes against humanity and possible ethnic cleansing against Muslim Rohingya minorities.

The military operation in the Bangladeshi border region began in early October after insurgents killed nine police officers. Since then, the UN estimated that more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed, around 70,000 have fled across the border into Bangladesh, and another 20,000 are believed to be internally displaced.

In a statement issued by the office of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's newly appointed national security advisor, Thaung Tan, was quoted of saying that the situation in the country's western region "is now stabilized."

"The clearance operations by the military have ceased, the curfew has been eased and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace," Tan said.

Damning UN allegations

The government has so far denied reports of abuses. However, a UN reports published this month details harrowing instances of mass killings and sexual assault, based on accounts from refugees and escapees. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday that he "was horrified" by the reports of sexual abuses carried out by security forces.

"We have shown that we are ready to act when there is clear evidence of abuses," Tun said in the statement.

Police to remain in Rakhine

A spokesman for the office of President Htin Kyaw announced in a separate statement Thursday that police forces would remain stationed in the region for security reasons.

"Halting the military operation doesn't really mean we won't have our security forces there," he said.

Amid growing international outcry and pressure on Nobel laureate Suu Kyi's civilian government, Myanmar has tasked a state-backed security commission to investigate the allegations.

The state-backed probe raises doubts over impartiality; a Myanmar presidential spokesman said the latest military figures estimated that fewer than 100 civilians had been killed in the counterinsurgency operation.

UN urges resettlement of Rohingya

The UN's refugee agency on Thursday said it has asked Bangladeshi authorities to allow it negotiate a resettlement deal with the United States, Canada and some European countries for around 1,000  Rohingya Muslims living in the South Asian nation.

The Bangladeshi representative for the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, Shinji Kubo, said the agency would push for a deal despite growing resistance towards immigration from some developed countries, particularly the United States.

Kubo said that 1,000 Rohingya refugees had been identified as priorities for resettlement on medical grounds or because they had been separated from family. 

"Regardless of the change in government or government policies, I think UNHCR has a clear responsibility to pursue a protection-oriented resettlement program," Kubo told the Reuters news agency on Thursday. 

"Resettlement will always be a challenging thing because only a small number of resettlement opportunities are being allocated by the international community at the moment. But it's our job to try to consult with respective countries based on the protection and humanitarian needs of these individuals."

Watch video 01:03

More Rohingya Muslims seek refuge in Bangladesh

dm/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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