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Myanmar military to hold court martial after Rohingya probe

HRW claims that military statement about village where mass graves were found is an attempt to divert attention

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Myanmar military to hold court martial after Rohingya probe

Rohingya refugees attend a ceremony at Kutupalong refugee camp on Aug. 25 to remember the second anniversary of a military crackdown that prompted a massive exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. (Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)

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Myanmar’s military says court martial proceedings are under way following an investigation into atrocities in Rakhine State, where a military crackdown led to thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh.

On Aug. 31, the office of military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing said a military court that visited Rakhine found soldiers had shown “weakness in following instructions in some incidents” in Gu Dar Pyin village in Buthidaung township.

An Associated Press report in February 2018 alleged that at least five mass graves of Rohingya had been found in the village and accused soldiers and Buddhist vigilantes of attacking villagers with guns, knives, rocket launchers and grenades before dumping bodies into pits and dousing them with acid.

Estimates from survivors in Bangladesh put the death toll in the hundreds, according to the report.

Government officials at the time denied the claim and said 19 terrorists had died and their bodies were carefully buried. State-run media last year reported that security forces claimed they were under attack by 500 villagers and had acted in self-defense.

The military’s latest statement said a court of inquiry would continue to pursue the investigation.

The military’s rare court martial comes as pressure mounts from the international community over its atrocities against Rohingya and other minority groups.

Rights groups claim the military has done little to hold its officers accountable over rights abuses.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the decision to court martial a few soldiers is hardly enough when atrocities included murder, torture, rape and arson that destroyed people and their communities.

He said the military was trying to divert international attention by finding a few scapegoats to blame.

“The reality is the entire Tatmadaw [armed forces] deployed to Rakhine during the so-called clearance operations systematically violated human rights as they ethnically cleansed and chased the Rohingya out of the state,” Robertson told ucanews.com.

If the Tatmadaw were serious about correcting wrongs, they could start by opening the so-called court martial to public and media scrutiny rather than holding the entire procedure behind closed doors, he said.

The Tatmadaw previously admitted that members of the security forces had helped to kill 10 Rohingya in Inn Dinn village in September 2017.

Four officers and three soldiers were sentenced to 10 years in jail with hard labor but were reportedly released in less than a year.

Two Reuters journalists who exposed the Inn Dinn massacre and were convicted of violating state secrets spent more than 500 days in jail before being released this year.

A U.N. fact-finding mission found last year that the military committed four of the five acts constituting genocide against Rohingya. It said Min Aung Hlaing and five other senior generals should be prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine due to a bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military that started in August 2017 following attacks on border posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

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