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Senior Myanmar official rejects 'ethnic cleansing' charge

© AFP/File | A Rohingya refugee child climbs stairs at Hakimpara refugee camp in Bangladesh's Ukhia district in January 2018

GENEVA (AFP) - 

A senior Myanmar official on Thursday rejected a UN accusation that his government has been carrying "ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya Muslim ethnic group.

"We often heard many accusations that there is ethnic cleansing or even genocide in Myanmar.... it is not the policy of the government," Myanmar's National Security Advisor Thaung Tun, Union Minister for the Office of the Union Government of Myanmar told a press conference in the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva.

"Whenever there is clear evidence we will make sure that action is taken against those who have perpetrated any crimes or those who have cause human rights abuses," he added.

On Wednesday, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called for a new body tasked with preparing criminal indictments over atrocities committed in Myanmar, after a similar panel was created for the Syrian conflict.

In his annual report to the council, Zeid restated his concern that "acts of genocide may have taken place" in the Rohingya homeland of Rakhine state.

An estimated 700,000 Rohingya have fled over the border to Bangladesh since an army crackdown was launched in Rakhine in August.

Myanmar blames Rohingya militants for an August 25 strike on security posts in Rakhine state that triggered a fierce army crackdown.

The UN and the US have said the retaliatory response by Myanmar security forces amounted to "ethnic cleansing". Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine since August.

Thaung Tun said that "the vast majority of Muslims in that part of the country remain in the villages".

If there had been a genocide attempt then they would surely all have fled the region, he added.

"The very fact that Myanmar is willing to take back people who have crossed over the border" from Bangladesh indicates "we are not planning to have them out of the country," he said.

Bangladesh says more than one million Rohingya refugees are living in squalid camps in the country's south, having fled successive waves of violence in Myanmar's Rakhine district.

© 2018 AFP