MYANMAR’s military issued its most forceful denial yet yesterday that security forces had committed atrocities during “clearance operations” in the west of the country which sparked the largest refugee crisis in Asia in decades.

In a statement, the military said it had interviewed thousands of people into the conduct of troops in Rakhine state after Rohingya insurgents launched a series of attacks there on August 25.

While the report acknowledged battles against militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, it claims security forces had “never shot at the innocent Bengalis” and “there was no death of innocent people”.

Myanmar’s government says members of the Muslim minority are “Bengalis” who migrated illegally from Bangladesh and do not acknowledge the Rohingya as a local ethnic group, even though they have lived in Myanmar for generations.

The latest denial contradicts consistent statements from refugees in Bangladesh who have described witnessing atrocities committed by security forces and Buddhist mobs. Those who have spoken to journalists and human rights groups accuse Myanmar’s security forces of massacres, rape, looting and the burning of hundreds of villages during the military operation.

The report comes ahead of a visit today by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for talks on the crisis.