Mystery surrounds deaths of Hindu villagers in Myanmar mass graves

Government accused of ‘dirty tricks’ as Hindus who fled to Bangladesh say army was behind massacre, only to blame Rohingya militants once back in Myanmar

Two weeks after the bodies of 45 men, women and children were unearthed in mass graves in Myanmar, the mystery over who carried out the massacre in a Hindu village has deepened.

Myanmar government forces reported finding the skeletal remains in three large graves – a further 48 missing villagers are also presumed dead – and flew out journalists to the site.

Officials claimed Muslim Rohingya militants were responsible for the massacre, but the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army denied killing the villagers. The insurgent group, which is waging war in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, said it does not target civilians.

Rohingya refugees have accused the Myanmar government of playing “dirty tricks” over the killings.

A group of Hindu women who crossed into neighbouring Bangladesh from Myanmar after surviving the attack claimed the Myanmar military carried out the massacre. However, when they were subsequently returned to Myanmar by security forces, they offered a different version of events, blaming Rohingya militants.Against this backdrop of claim and counter-claim, UN human rights official Jyoti Sanghera has called on Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to “stop the violence”. Sanghera said she feared the stateless Rohingya refugees would be interned if they returned to Myanmar from Bangladesh.

Violence broke out in Rakhine state on 25 August, when Rohingya insurgents attacked 30 police posts and an army camp, killing about a dozen people. The Myanmar government has since been accused of ethnic cleansing, 519,000 Muslims fleeing the country as security forces have torched homes, crops and villages and laid landmines along the border to prevent people from returning.

Hindu women who crossed into Bangladesh after an alleged attack in Myanmar’s Rakhine state
Hindu women who crossed into Bangladesh after an alleged attack in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Anika Dhar, 18, standing on the extreme left in a pink scarf, initially claimed the Myanmar army killed her husband. But when she and seven other Hindu women were later taken back to Myanmar by the country’s military, she reportedly said Rohingya Muslim militants killed her husband. Photograph: Nurul Islam

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – who has described the Myanmar government operations as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” – said in a statement on Wednesday that the actions appeared to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return”.

“Credible information indicates that the Myanmar security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingyas, scorched their dwellings and entire villages in northern Rakhine State, not only to drive the population out in droves but also to prevent the fleeing Rohingya victims from returning to their homes,” the UN human rights office said in a report.While international condemnation of the crisis is growing, the military campaign has found popular support in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where there is little sympathy for the Rohingya, or for Muslims in general, and where Buddhist nationalism has surged.

The government cited the massacre of the villagers as evidence of violence on both sides. But survivors, who initially told reporters in Myanmar that Rohingya attackers were responsible, and were graphically quoted in the country’s newspapers, later told journalists, aid workers and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh that their loved ones were killed by security forces and armed men from the Mogh, local Rakhine Buddhists.

When the survivors returned to Myanmar, their story changed for a second time, with some claiming the attackers were masked and they did not know who was responsible.

Shib Kumar, a Hindu refugee, said the killers of her parents and aunt were masked and dressed in black.

“I could not recognise those men who killed Hindus as well as Muslims. We the Hindus and Muslims fled together,” said Kumar.

A Myanmar army helicopter transports journalists to an area where government forces found the bodies of Hindu villagers, whom the authorities claim were killed by insurgents last month
A Myanmar army helicopter transports journalists to an area where government forces found the bodies of Hindu villagers, whom the authorities claim were killed by insurgents last month. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Abdus Salam, another Rohingya refugee, said the Hindus knew who the killers were.

“That’s why they decided not to move inland towards the Buddhist-majority areas and felt safer to take the company of the Muslim neighbours to flee to Bangladesh,” said Salam.

Rohingya refugee Shofi Ullah accused the Myanmar military of “playing a game” with the Hindu bodies to create more pressure on the Rohingya community.

Ullah said: “Some weeks ago, the Myanmar authorities presented photos of some people setting fire to Rohingya-owned homes and claimed that they were Rohingya. But the international media proved with evidence that the people in the photos were actually Hindu. Now they are using some Hindu women to cover up the misdeeds of the security forces and the Buddhist militia.

“We are sure that the Myanmar government’s dirty trick will get exposed soon.”

The British public has to date raised £9m for the emergency appeal for people fleeing Myanmar. The UK government has announced it will match the next £2m of public donations, in addition to the £3m already announced by the Department for International Development.

The extra cash for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal was announced by the UK development secretary, Priti Patel, on Thursday. “The situation facing those fleeing Myanmar is truly desperate,” she said. “We are hearing stories of small children separated from their families and of mothers giving birth in appalling conditions. DEC member charities are on the ground right now but they urgently need more funds to reach as many people as possible.”


Shaikh Azizur Rahman

The GuardianTramp

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