Burma's President Thein Sein in an interview with the BBC's Hardtalk TV program that aired last week, dismissed claims that Burma's military has committed human rights abuses against civilians in Kachin state.
Asked to comment on a report released earlier this year by New York based Human Rights Watch alleging that government forces have routinely committed acts of rape and torture during the army's 15- month-long Kachin offensive, Thein Sein responded that the charges “are just one sided accusations.”
"Our military is very disciplined, there is no reason for the military to commit acts of rape or murder,” Thein Sein told the BBC. The interview, the first conducted by the British public broadcaster with a Burmese head of state in decades, was done at the end of September in New York while Thein Sein was visiting the United Nations.
Despite the former general's claim that the army is well behaved, since the Kachin conflict began in June of last year Human Rights Watch and other organizations have issued a series of damming reports accusing government forces of committing war crimes against Kachin civilians. Since the fighting began an estimated 100,000 people have fled from their homes in Kachin and northern Shan states. Many of those who fled said they did so because they army had attacked their villages and shot at them.
The Kachin National Organization (KNO), the largest and best organized Kachin diaspora group, denounced Thein Sein's denials in a statement sent shortly after his interview went to air.
During the interview Thein Sein was also asked whether Aung San Suu Kyi could be President someday. "Whether she will become a leader of the nation depends on the will of the people. If the people accept her, then I will have to accept her," Thein Sein claimed.
Thein Sein also told the BBC that he has a good working relationship with the longtime political prisoner. "There isn't any problem between me and Aung San Suu Kyi. We are working together," Thein Sein said.
Many Kachin have been disappointed that Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to condemn Thein Sein's handling of the Kachin conflict while the Burma's military presses ahead with a bloody offensive in Kachin and neighboring Shan states against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
Suu Kyi recently told an audience in New York that she had chosen not to comment on the Kachin conflict because doing so would make it worse. “There are people who criticized me when I remained silence [sic] on this case. They can do so as they are not satisfied with me. But, for me, I do not want to add fire to any side of the conflict,” she was quoted by the Irrawaddy magazine as telling an audience at Queens College.