Myanmar’s security operation in Rakhine state has ended, the country’s newly appointed national security adviser said on Wednesday, but military and police will stay to maintain peace. The announcement signals the end of a brutal four-month crackdown that the U.N. has said likely constitutes crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing of the state’s minority Rohingya Muslims.
“The situation in northern Rakhine has now stabilized. The clearance operations undertaken by the military have ceased, the curfew has been eased and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace,” Thaung Tun told members of the Diplomatic Corps and U.N. agencies, according to a statement released by the State Counsellor’s office.
After months of limited delivery and access to humanitarian aid, Thaung Tun also said that the government is focused on “providing immediate humanitarian relief” as well as “finding real, lasting solutions to the situation in Rakhine.”
The crackdown began after Rohingya Muslim insurgents attacked a border post on Oct. 9 and killed nine officers. Since then, more than 69,000 Rohingyas have fled across the border to Bangladesh and, according to some U.N. officials, more than 1,000 may have been killed.
“The persons involved in the violent attacks in Rakhine state have been arrested and the cases against them have been submitted to the court for prosecution,” the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Major General Aung Soe, said on Wednesday, according to Myanmar Times.
But the operation has been strongly condemned by a host of international bodies, including the U.N., human rights organizations, foreign governments and fellow Nobel laureates of Myanmar’s leader Aun San Suu Kyi.
Even before the crackdown began, human rights organizations spoke out against Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya for years. The Buddhist Rakhine majority and the government consider Rohingya Muslims illegal Bengali migrants. They refuse to “legitimize” ethnic claims with the name “Rohingya,” and clashes turned bloody in 2012. Those who did not flee to the jungles have been confined to dire conditions in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and closely guarded villages, where they are denied citizenship and basic human rights.
But with the onset of the crackdown in October, reports of rape, abuse, arbitrary arrests, arson and theft at the hands of security forces against Rohingya Muslims began surfacing. Months of satellite images, videos and testimonies culminated in a damning report by the U.N. on Feb. 3, which concluded the reported abuses “seem to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”
“There can be no excuse for excessive force, for abuses of fundamental human rights and basic criminality,” Thaung Tun said on Wednesday. “We have shown that we are ready to act where there is clear evidence of abuses.”
However, a national commission said on Tuesday it could not verify the claims made in the U.N. report, just as previous investigations into allegations found “insufficient evidence.”
In the meantime, military and police presence remains heavy in Rakhine to “uphold security, tranquility and rule of law,” Myanmar Times reported the deputy minister of home affairs saying.
While the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs did not respond to a request for comment, observers on social media are expressing skepticism of a significant shift. State political parties and civil society groups on the other hand have already launched preparations for a national dialogue, according to local media.