November 23, 2017 / 9:04 AM / 24 days ago

U.S. calling Rohingya operation 'ethnic cleansing' unhelpful: Russian envoy

YANGON (Reuters) - The U.S. labeling of a Myanmar army crackdown on Rohingya Muslims as “ethnic cleansing” is unhelpful and could aggravate the situation, Russia’s ambassador to the southeast Asian nation said on Thursday, criticizing “excessive external intervention”.

Rights groups have accused the military in mostly Buddhist Myanmar of carrying out mass rape and other atrocities during a ferocious military sweep launched in late August in retaliation for attacks by Rohingya Muslim militants in Rakhine State.

That drove 620,000 Rohingya refugees, many traumatized with gunshot wounds and burns, to flee to Bangladesh, joining hundreds of thousands who have sheltered there for years after previous spasms of violence in the former Burma.

The military operation amounted to “ethnic cleansing”, the United States said on Wednesday, echoing an accusation first made by top U.N. officials in the early days of the humanitarian crisis.

“I don’t think that it will help to solve this problem,” Russian ambassador Nikolay Listopadov told Reuters in an interview in Yangon, when asked about the U.S. move.

“On the contrary, it can aggravate the situation, throw more fuel,” he said in English, citing concern over how the Buddhist community in Rakhine would react to such a designation.

This month, Russia and China agreed to a UN Security Council statement urging Myanmar to “ensure no further excessive use of military force” and expressing “grave concern over reports of human rights violations”, but they have opposed tougher steps and further pressure on Myanmar.

“We are against excessive external intervention, because it won’t lead to any constructive results,” Listopadov said. “Just pressure and blaming and accusing - it simply won’t work.”

On a visit to Myanmar last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged the government of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to lead a credible and impartial inquiry, saying those who committed abuses should be held responsible.

But prospects for such an inquiry remain dim and Suu Kyi’s government refused to cooperate with a mission launched by the United Nations Human Rights Council in March after a less intense bout of violence in Rakhine.

The “so-called independent investigation” demanded by Tillerson was “absolutely” out of the question for Myanmar, Listopadov said.

“It’s absolutely not acceptable for the Myanmar side - it will never accept it...it won’t work - it’s counterproductive,” said Listopadov. “Independent investigation means international (investigation) - no, it’s not acceptable.”

Moscow’s approach was for the Rakhine issue to be solved by “political means, political dialogue,” he added, without elaborating.

He welcomed talks being held in Myanmar’s capital of Naypyitaw between Myanmar and Bangladesh on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, stressing it was “important to start this process.”

“We wish them success,” said Listopadov, “this complicated Rakhine issue can be solved mostly only by negotiations and agreements between the two sides, because they’re the most involved,” he said, referring to Bangladesh and Myanmar.

China wants closer ties with Myanmar’s military to help protect regional peace and security, a senior Chinese general told the visiting head of the southeast Asian country’s army this week.

Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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