Myanmar: Myanmar has fired the military general who led the campaign of violence against the Rohingya, after the European Union (EU) imposed direct sanctions on him and six other officers.
On Monday, the EU and Canada named seven Myanmar military officers who would be subject to a travel ban and have their assets frozen for their pivotal role in the violence in Rakhine state, which has led to 700,000 Rohingya fleeing over the border to Bangladesh since last August.
In a rare example of Myanmar bowing to pressure from the West over the actions of the military, the government responded to the sanctions with an announcement that Maj Gen Maung Maung Soe was being removed from his position.
He had been the head of western command in Rakhine during the assault on Rohingya villages and, in a statement, the EU described him as "responsible for the atrocities and serious human rights violations committed ... These include unlawful killings, sexual violence and systematic burning of Rohingya houses and buildings".
The Myanmar government did not refer to the sanctions in its statement and said the general was fired due to weakness in his response to the attacks on police outposts by the Rohingya militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). These attacks, in 2016 and August 2017, are seen as the catalyst for the Myanmar military coming down on the Rohingya community in Rakhine with such brute force.
The EU also imposed sanctions on Lt Gen Aung Kyaw Zaw, whose Bureau of Special Operations No 3 oversaw the western command. He had already been given "permission to resign" in May, while Thant Zin Oo, the commander of the 8th Security Police Battalion, was also named and sanctioned.
The EU and wider international community removed sanctions against Myanmar in 2015 when it seemed the country was opening up and moving towards democracy, with Aung San Suu Kyi appointed de facto leader. However, the violence in Rakhine demonstrated the control the military still had over the Myanmar government and some sanctions were reimposed by the EU and the US.
The decision to fire Maung Maung Soe is an indicator that the government now wants to demonstrate to the international community that it is making the military accountable for the violence in Rakhine, which has been described as ethnic cleansing by the United Nations. Previously the Myanmar military has denied culpability for the violence against the Rohingya.