Stephan Uttom, Dhaka, Bangladesh, and John Zaw, Mandalay, Myanmar,Updated: March 22, 2018 09:15 AM GMT
Rohingya children get water at Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh on Jan. 26. Camp resident Jamal Ahmed believes more than 400 Rohingya were murdered by Myanmar's military in Gu Dar Pyin village. (Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have reacted with anger and dismay to the reported discovery of five mass graves containing the remains of more than 400 dead Rohingya Muslims in a Myanmar village who were allegedly murdered by the military.
The Associated Press released a report on Feb. 1 that said mass graves had been found at Gu Dar Pyin village in Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine State. The detailed report said that the Rohingya villager's Buddhist neighbors allegedly assisted the military in carrying out the massacre.
Every villager interviewed by AP saw three large mass graves at Gu Dar Pyin's northern entrance, near the main road, where witnesses say soldiers herded and killed most of the Rohingya. A handful of witnesses confirmed the location of two other big graves near a hillside cemetery and smaller graves scattered around the village.
Jamal Ahmed, 43, is a Rohingya father of six who fled to Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar with his 10-member family from Maungdaw in Rakhine in mid-September last year. After what he had witnessed in Rakhine, he was not surprised by the news of the atrocity.
"On our way to Bangladesh, we saw three Rohingya were shot dead by the military in a village. We were so afraid of being caught, so we hid in the forest for two days and nights to avoid military patrols," Ahmed told ucanews.com on Feb. 1.
"It's been reported 400 people were murdered in Gu Dar Pyin village, but I can affirm many more were killed. The military tried to hide many bodies but not all," he said.
Nur Kabir, 29, moved to Balukhali refugee camp with his wife and three children from southern Maungdaw in early September last year.
"The whole of our village was torched by the military. The soldiers came to our village at night and set houses on fire. People who were sleeping, especially the elderly and children who couldn't run, perished in the fire," Kabir told ucanews.com.
"The soldiers came back during the day and shot at people indiscriminately. I saw two brothers from a neighboring house shot dead and their bodies dumped on the village road. We were not able to bury them as we ran for our lives," he said.
"The allegation of genocide against Rohingya by the military is true and must be investigated by the international community."
Mg Mg, a Rohingya resident in Buthidaung, said military units arrived in Gu Dar Pyin on the evening of Feb. 1 following the report. Senior military officials, border guard forces and local administrators were due to visit the village on Feb. 2.
"There will be more mass graves in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships and the death toll from the Gu Dar Pyin massacre could be higher," Mg Mg told ucanews.com.
Myanmar's military and Aung San Suu Kyi's government have yet to comment on the AP report.
The U.S. and the United Nations said they were very concerned about the report, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the international community should demand accountability from Myanmar.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the report was "extremely troubling." The UN was very concerned about the possible mass graves. He said the report "underscores the need for the UN to have access to Rakhine."
The U.S. said it was "deeply, deeply troubled by those reports of mass graves."
"We are watching this very carefully. We remain focused on helping to ensure the accountability of those responsible for human rights abuses and violations," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, said the report raised the stakes for the international community to demand accountability from Myanmar.
"The UN Security Council should also take a decision to refer the Myanmar security forces' actions to the International Criminal Court for a thorough investigation and effective prosecution," Robertson said on Feb. 1.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh complied a list of almost 4,400 Rohingya killed in Rakhine since October 2016 and gave it to UN envoy Yanghee Lee, according to a BenarNews report.
The data was collected by Rohingya leaders going door to door in refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh, according to people who took part in the effort. The list states that in Maungdaw alone, the worst hit of three townships, 2,354 people were killed and there could be 106 mass graves.
Doctors Without Borders said in its own survey in December that at least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed in Rakhine during the first month of the August 2017 crackdown by Myanmar's military.
More than 770,000 refugees have fled into Bangladesh following the bloody crackdown on Rohingya after attacks by Rohingya militants in October 2016 and August 2017.