The media has "exaggerated" the number of Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar, the country's commander-in-chief said Thursday in a sharp denial of accusations of ethnic cleansing by his military.
During a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel, General Min Aung Hlaing blamed "instigation and propaganda" by the media for enflaming the issue, according to a post on his Facebook page.
It is an "exaggeration to say that the number of Bengalis fleeing to Bangladesh is very large," the post quoted him as saying, using a pejorative term for the Rohingya. Myanmar classifies them as illegal immigrants. Min also defended the military crackdown in the troubled state, describing it as "proportionate."
The United Nations estimates more than 500,000 Rohingya have crossed the border to neighboring Bangladesh since August 25, fleeing horrendous violence in Rakhine state. The Muslim minority group has faced discrimination in the Buddhist-majority country for decades.
In a meeting Thursday with U Thaung Tun, national security adviser for Myanmar, Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, appealed to Myanmar to facilitate the "safe, dignified return" of refugees displaced by violence. She also asked that Myanmar hold security officials found responsible for offenses against all affected communities accountable for their actions, according to a readout of the meeting.
The U.N. announced Thursday that Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman will visit Myanmar from October 13 to 17.
Feltman has repeatedly called for an end to the military operations and violence in northern Rakhine state; unfettered access for humanitarian support; and the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees to their areas of origin, the announcement said.
Pope Francis plans to visit Myanmar in late November, when he is expected to push for peace.