Survivors said that the soldiers carefully planned the 27 August attack, and then deliberately tried to hide what they had done
The US state department has said it is “deeply, deeply troubled” by new reports of mass graves in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where the military has been accused of atrocities against minority Rohingya Muslims.
The Associated Press reported earlier it had confirmed the existence of more than five previously unreported mass graves in the Myanmar village of Gu Dar Pyin, through interviews with survivors in refugee camps in Bangladesh and through time-stamped mobile phone videos.
“We are deeply, deeply troubled by those reports of mass graves,” state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a regular news briefing. “We are watching this very carefully. We remain focused on helping to ensure the accountability for those responsible for human rights abuses and violations.”
Nauert said the reports highlighted the need for authorities in Myanmar to cooperate with an independent, credible investigation into allegations of atrocities in northern Rakhine state.
A United Nations spokesman said the report was “extremely troubling,” and he urged Myanmar to allow access to the state where the killings occurred.
Stephane Dujarric said the UN was “very concerned” about the possible mass graves. He says the report “underscores the need for the UN to have access” to Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled since August.
The Myanmar government regularly claims massacres like Gu Dar Pyin never happened, and has acknowledged only one mass grave containing 10 “terrorists” in the village of Inn Din.
But the AP report seems to suggest a military slaughter of civilians and the presence of many more graves with many more people.
It is the newest piece of evidence for what looks increasingly like a genocide in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state against the Rohingya, a long-persecuted ethnic Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist country.
Myanmar has cut off access to Gu Dar Pyin, so it’s unclear just how many people died, but satellite images obtained from DigitalGlobe, along with video of homes reduced to ash, reveal a village that has been wiped out.
Community leaders in the refugee camps have compiled a list of 75 dead so far, and villagers estimate the toll could be as high as 400, based on testimony from relatives and the bodies they’ve seen in the graves and strewn about the area. A large number of the survivors carry scars from bullet wounds, including a three-year-old boy and his grandmother.
Almost every villager interviewed by the 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 two other big graves near a hillside cemetery, not too far away from a school where more than 100 soldiers were stationed after the massacre. Villagers also saw other, smaller graves scattered around the village.
Survivors said that the soldiers carefully planned the 27 August attack, and then deliberately tried to hide what they had done.
‘I thought I was dead’
The killing began around noon, when more than 200 soldiers swept into the village from the direction of a Buddhist village to the south, firing their weapons.
When Mohammad Younus, 25, heard explosions from hand grenades and rocket launchers, he ran to the road. He was shot twice while trying to call his family. One of the bullets, still in his hip, can be seen when he pinches the skin.
“People were screaming, crying, pleading for their lives, but the soldiers just shot continuously,” said Mohammad Rayes, 23, a schoolteacher who climbed a tree and watched.
Noor Kadir, 14, was shot twice in the foot but managed to drag himself under a bridge, where he removed one of the bullets himself. Then he watched for 16 hours as soldiers, police and Buddhist neighbours killed unarmed Rohingya and burned the village.
“I couldn’t move,” he said. “I thought I was dead. I began to forget why I was there, to forget that all around me people were dying.”