Myanmar: Rebel group says bodies found in mass grave not militants

Tem Rohingya Muslims whom the Myanmar military had admitted to killing in Rakhine state on September 2 last year were “innocent civilians” and not militants as the Myanmar government claimed, the rebel group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) said on Saturday.

“We hereby declare that these 10 innocent Rohingya civilians found in the said mass grave in Inn Dinn Village Tract were neither ARSA nor had any association with ARSA,” a statement posted on the group’s Twitter page said.

The background

  • In December 2017, Myanmar’s army found 10 bodies in a mass grave on the edge of a village in northern Rakhine state.
  • Following an investigation, Myanmar’s military acknowledged on Wednesday that its security forces killed the 10 Rohingya Muslims, whom Buddhist villagers had forced into a grave the villagers had dug.
  • The army said the 10 killed were suspected Rohingya Muslim militants, something now denied by ARSA.

Read more: At least 6,700 Rohingya people killed, says Doctors Without Borders

At least 6,700 dead

Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, welcomed the army’s admission that security forces had carried out extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims, describing it as a “positive step,” state-backed media reported on Saturday.

The army’s rare admission of wrongdoing comes after months of denying abuses in Myanmar’s Rakhine state amid a military crackdown that has prompted about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to bordering Bangladesh and claimed at least 6,700
 since August. The United Nations has described the crackdown as “ethnic cleansing.”

Myanmar’s Ministry of Information has blamed Rohingya militants for the violence in Rakhine.

The ministry said only 400 people had died since the conflict began and that the crackdown by Myanmar troops was prompted when a militant Rohingya group attacked police posts on August 25. 

It labeled the 400 dead as “extreme terrorists” who died during military “clearance operations.”

Read more: Myanmar bars UN human rights investigator

‘Tip of the iceberg’

Amnesty International in a statement this week described the military’s admission of the killings as the “tip of the iceberg” and urged an international investigation.

“This grisly admission is a sharp departure from the army’s policy of blanket denial of any wrongdoing,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Read more: Myanmar Rohingya crackdown: ‘A textbook example of ethnic cleansing,’ says UN

“However, it is only the tip of the iceberg and warrants serious independent investigation into what other atrocities were committed amid the ethnic cleansing campaign that has forced out more than 655,000 Rohingya from Rakhine state since last August,” he added.

Millions pledged to repatriate Rohingya Muslims

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees on November 23. Myanmar said it would start the process by January 23 but an actual figure on the extent of the repatriation is not yet known.

Japan on Friday said it would grant Myanmar $3 million to assist in the repatriation of Rohingya Muslims.

In a meeting with Suu Kyi in Myanmar, Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Japan planned to give further aid of $20 million to improve humanitarian conditions and development in Rakhine state.

India has also pledged to give Myanmar $25 million for development projects, including prefabricated houses in Rakhine state.

law/tj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)