MYANMAR - Bound together, the 10 Rohingya captives watched their Buddhist neighbours dig a grave. Soon afterwards, on the morning of Sept. 2, all 10 lay dead. At least two were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers. The rest were shot by soldiers, two of the gravediggers said.
The killings marked another episode in the violence sweeping Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. The Rohingya accuse the army of arson, rapes and killings. The United Nations has said the army may have committed genocide. Myanmar says its “clearance operation” is a legitimate response to attacks by insurgents. Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. But most people in majority-Buddhist Myanmar consider them to be unwanted Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. The army refers to the Rohingya as “Bengalis,” and most lack citizenship. In recent years, the government has confined more than 100,000 Rohingya in camps where they have limited access to food, medicine and education. Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled their villages and crossed the border into Bangladesh since August.
Reuters has pieced together what happened in the days leading up to the killings in Inn Din, drawing for the first time on interviews with Buddhist villagers who confessed to torching Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims.
This account also marks the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel. Three photographs, provided to Reuters by a Buddhist village elder, capture key moments, from the Rohingya men’s detention by soldiers in the early evening of Sept. 1 to their execution shortly after 10 a.m. on Sept. 2.
The Reuters investigation was what prompted police authorities to arrest two of the news agency’s reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, on Dec. 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents relating to Rakhine. Then, on Jan. 10, the military issued a statement that confirmed portions of what Reuters was preparing to report, acknowledging that 10 Rohingya men were massacred in Inn Din.
But the military’s version of events is contradicted in important respects by accounts given to Reuters by Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim witnesses. The military said the 10 men belonged to a group of “200 terrorists” that attacked security forces. But Buddhist villagers interviewed for this article reported no attack by a large number of insurgents on security forces in Inn Din. And Rohingya witnesses told Reuters that soldiers plucked the 10 from among Rohingya who had sought safety on a nearby beach.
Scores of interviews with Rakhine Buddhist villagers, soldiers, paramilitary police, Rohingya and a local administrator further revealed:
– The military and paramilitary police organized Buddhist residents of Inn Din and at least two other villages to torch Rohingya homes, Buddhist villagers said.
– An order to “clear” Inn Din’s Rohingya hamlets was passed down the command chain from the military, said three paramilitary police officers and a fourth police officer at an intelligence unit in the regional capital Sittwe.
– Some members of the paramilitary police looted Rohingya property including cows and motorcycles in order to sell it, according to Inn Din’s Buddhist administrator and one of the paramilitary police officers.
Asked about the evidence Reuters has uncovered about the massacre, government spokesman Zaw Htay said, “We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials.” If there was “strong and reliable primary evidence” of abuses, the government would investigate, he said. “And then if we found the evidence is true and the violations are there, we will take the necessary action according to our existing law.”
When told that paramilitary police officers had said they received orders to “clear” Inn Din’s Rohingya hamlets, he replied, “We have to verify. We have to ask the Ministry of Home Affairs and Myanmar police forces.” Asked about the allegations of looting by paramilitary police officers, he said the police would investigate. He expressed surprise when told that Buddhist villagers had confessed to burning Rohingya homes, then added, “We recognize that many, many different allegations are there, but we need to verify who did it. It is very difficult in the current situation.”
Zaw Htay defended the military operation in Rakhine. “The international community needs to understand who did the first terrorist attacks. If that kind of terrorist attack took place in European countries, in the United States, in London, New York, Washington, what would the media say?”