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YANGON: Myanmar’s military said it sacked a top general who was named in fresh EU sanctions against security officials accused of serious rights violations in the Rohingya crisis, including killings and sexual violence.

Myanmar is accused of waging a crackdown in Rakhine state that forced 700,000 to flee that the UN and major western powers have said amounts to “ethnic cleansing”.

Take a look: Myanmar’s unpeople

Its leaders have come under fire for taking little punitive action against the military, which has maintained its troops were responding to attacks by Rohingya militants.

But the military said late on Monday in a Facebook post that Major General Maung Maung Soe, the former head of the western command in Rakhine, had been “purged” for poor performance.

The announcement came after the EU said he was among seven security officials hit with travel bans and asset freezes, but Myanmar did not link his sacking to the new sanctions.

The Facebook post said Maung Maung Soe was first reassigned last November, and that his removal from his position in the western command was to “inspect his responsibility over his weakness while working for Rakhine state stability”.

Maung Maung Soe was also the target of US sanctions last year over the Rohingya crisis.

The statement added that Lieutenant General Aung Kyaw Zaw — commander of the bureau of special operations and also on the EU list — was permitted to resign in May for health reasons and “weakness in serving duty”.

Canada said it was also imposing sanctions against the same seven figures named by the European Union.

The EU said the individuals were targeted because of their “involvement in or association with atrocities and serious human rights violations committed against the Rohingya population in Rakhine state in the second half of 2017.” “These violations include unlawful killings, sexual violence and the systematic burning of Rohingya houses and buildings.”

Most Rohingya refugees have settled in squalid camps in neighbouring Bangladesh and say they are too afraid to return to Myanmar though both countries have signed a repatriation deal.

Many refugees say they will not return without a basic guarantee of protection.

The United Nations signed a deal with Myanmar this month to allow its agencies to assess conditions on the ground in Rakhine state, which they say are not yet ripe for a safe and voluntary return.

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has faced global criticism for not standing up more for the Rohingya, though supporters say she has little control over army actions.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2018