Yangon, Myanmar (AP) – Thousands of people marched in Yangon on Sunday to show support for the military, which has come under heavy criticism over violence that has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee from Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh.
More than 2,000 army supporters, including Buddhist nationalists and monks, took part in the march.
“I want to urge you to support the military. Only if the military is strengthened will our sovereignty will be secured,” a senior Buddhist nationalist monk, Zagara, told the crowd.
More than 600,000 Rohingya from northern Rakhine have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar security forces began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages. Myanmar’s government has said it was responding to attacks on police outposts by insurgents, but the United Nations and others have said the response was disproportionate.
The exodus of the Rohingya has become a major humanitarian crisis and sparked international condemnation of Myanmar.
Nyunt Yi, a 70-year-old retired military soldier who served in the army for more than 40 years, said Sunday that “only the army can protect the national security and stop the illegal intruders,” referring to the Rohingya.
Myanmar’s Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya are a separate ethnic group and regards them as having migrated illegally from Bangladesh, although many families have lived in Myanmar for generations.