Myanmar investigates mass grave in Rakhine

Remains found near cemetery at township hit hard by violence and arson attacks on Rohingya homes
Myanmar investigates mass grave in Rakhine

Smoke rises from what is believed to be a burning village in the southern Maungdaw area of Myanmar's Rakhine state on Sept. 4, 2017. Authorities are investigating the discovery of a mass grave near Maungdaw which was subject to violence and arson attacks. (Photo AFP)

A forensic investigation has begun into 10 corpses found in a village in conflict-torn Rakhine state where security forces have been accused of committing widespread rights abuses against Rohingya.

Tin Mg Swe, a senior Rakhine government official, said a team comprised of health officials, administrators, police and a judge unearthed 10 corpses near the cemetery in Inn Din village on Dec. 19.

He said the remains were unrecognizable and further investigations were underway.

Tin Mg Swe told ucanews.com he couldn’t comment on whether the remains were from members of the Muslim Rohingya community, who suffered under the Myanmar military following a crackdown on separatist militants starting in late August.

Hla Tun Kyaw, an MP from the hardline Buddhist Arakan National Party in Maungdaw constituency, said he had learned through a town administrator that the killings were not recent. It was likely the corpses had been there for more than a year due to the advanced state of decomposition.

The politician, however, said he did not know whether the remains were ethnic Rakhine or Rohingya.

"We call on local authorities to conduct a detailed investigation and announce the results to the public to ensure transparency," Hla Tun Kyaw, an ethnic Rakhine, said.

Myanmar’s military announced Dec. 18 the discovery of the mass grave near a cemetery in Inn Din village, southern Maungdaw, around 50 kilometers north of the state capital city Sittwe.

Inn Din village is home to 1,000 Rohingya Muslims and at least 200 Rakhines. Only Rakhine householders remain after the Rohingya residents fled along with more than 600,000 others to refugee camps in Bangladesh as a result of the violence triggered by the military crackdown on Muslim insurgents.

Maungdaw was one of the hardest hit towns by the violence, which led the United Nations to accuse Myanmar security forces of committing genocide against the Rohingya.

At Inn Din, Rohingya and Rakhine lived in segregated communities. Inn Din is documented as being hit by heavy arson attacks, with Rohingya areas burned to the ground while Rakhine areas were left intact, according to Human Rights Watch satellite images released on Oct.17.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia Division, said time and again, Myanmar’s government and military have proved unwilling to seriously investigate possible wrongdoing by government officials, and Inn Din would probably be the same.

"It’s really critical that Myanmar accept the assistance of impartial, independent investigators and allow them to immediately travel to Inn Din to probe what happened and make a full public report," Robertson told ucanews.com.

MP Hla Tun Kyaw said four school teachers and a member of the  Arakan National Party (ANP) were arrested prior to the discovery of the grave, but it was unclear if they were directly involved or had knowledge of the incident.

One of the teachers had been released, while the remainder were taken to Sittwe for further questioning.

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Hla Tun Kyaw said he had heard that two Reuters journalists who have been detained by authorities visited Inn Din village recently and talked to villagers.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested by police in Htauk Kyant for allegedly being in possession of police reports. The pair have been charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and could face a maximum term of 14 years in jail.

Rakhine government official Tin Mg Swe said police are questioning a number of villagers but declined to say whether the arrests are related to the mass grave.

After interviewing relatives of one of the detained teachers, The New York Times said the five were arrested because they gave photos and documents to the Reuters reporters.

Myanmar’s government is yet to disclose the whereabouts of the journalists despite them being held for a week and mounting pressure from the U.N., U.S., Britain and the E.U. for their unconditional release.

Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said in a statement on Dec. 20 that "Burmese authorities should immediately release the two Reuters journalists whose detentions appear aimed at stopping independent reporting of the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya."

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