BURMA’S (Myanmar) military has admitted that its soldiers were involved in the killing 10 captured Rohingya Muslims, after local Buddhist villagers had forced the men into a grave they had dug.
“Villagers and members of the security forces have confessed that they committed murder,” the military said in a statement on Wednesday.
This is the first time the military has acknowledged any wrongdoing since it began its “clearance operations” in August 2017. Over 650,000 Rohingya have since fled across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh. The United Nations has called the army’s campaign “ethnic cleansing.” Until now, the military has maintained that it is carrying out legitimate counterinsurgency operations.
The military announced on Dec 18 that a mass grave containing 10 bodies had been found at the coastal village of Inn Din, about 50 km north of the state capital Sittwe. The army appointed a senior officer to investigate.
Security forces had been conducting a “clearance operation” in the area on Sept 1 when “200 Bengali terrorists attacked using sticks and swords”, the military said in a statement posted on the Facebook page of its commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The use of the term “Bengali” is the commonly used term for Rohingya in Burma as it implies they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite them living in Burma for generations.
Ten of the attackers were captured after the security forces drove the rest off by firing into the air, according to the statement.
The captives should have been handed over to the police, in line with procedure, but the militants were attacking “continuously” and had destroyed two military vehicles with explosives, it said.
The military said, referring to the findings of the investigating team:
“It was found that there were no conditions to transfer the 10 Bengali terrorists to the police station and so it was decided to kill them.”
Angry ethnic Rakhine Buddhist villagers, who had lost relatives in militant attacks, wanted to kill the captives, and stabbed them after forcing them into a grave on the outskirts of the village. Then members of the security forces shot them dead, the military said.
“Action will be taken against the villagers … and the security force members who violated the rules of engagement according to the law,” the statement said.
Anti-Rohingya sentiment is high not only among the military, but the general population, among whom a form of Buddhist nationalism has seen a resurgence since the end of military rule.
The military investigation was led by Lieutenant General Aye Win. The same officer had been in charge of a wider probe into the conduct of troops in the conflict that concluded in a report in November that no atrocities had taken place.
The rights group Amnesty International said the statement from the military was “a sharp departure from the army’s policy of blanket denial of any wrongdoing”.
“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,” the rights group said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Reuters