YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s government said Thursday the military has ended its four-month counterinsurgency operation in troubled Rakhine state, where it had been accused of rape, torture and other abuses against Muslim Rohingya minority residents.
The statement from State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office quoted newly appointed national security adviser Thaung Tan as saying the situation was now stable in northern Rakhine.
“The situation in northern Rakhine 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,” he was quoted saying.
The army’s operation began in early October after nine police officers at three outposts on the border with Bangladesh were killed by insurgents.
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Human rights groups charged that the army crackdown included burning down more than 1,000 homes and killing an unknown number of civilians, possibly several hundred. More than 70,000 villagers fled across the border to Bangladesh, and another 20,000 are internally displaced.
The government has denied the abuses but its official investigation is ongoing.
“Halting the military operation doesn’t really mean we won’t have our security forces there,” Zaw Htay, spokesman for the office of President Htin Kyaw said separately. “Of course we still need the presence of the police because for reasons of security in the region.”
Reports of human rights abuses have drawn international attention to Rakhine.
On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement saying he “was horrified” at a recent report on alleged sexual abuses by security forces in Myanmar against the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.has alleged that soldiers and Border Guard Police took part in rape, gang rape, invasive body searches and sexual assaults while conducting counterinsurgency operations in Rakhine from October through mid-December.
The estimated 1 million Rohingya face official and social discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Most are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Many fled home during communal violence in 2012 and over 100,000 live in refugee camps.