Myanmar authorities have found 45 dead bodies of Hindus thought to have been killed by Muslim militants in the country’s ravaged northern Rakhine state in the wake of a late August attack on police outposts.
Seventeen corpses were unearthed in two pits on Monday in Yebaw Kya village in the state’s Maungdaw township, according to Ni Maul, a Hindu social worker and community leader who was visiting the site.
They were buried near another mass grave site where 28 bodies were found in two pits on Sunday, about 1,200 meters (39 feet) west of Yebaw Kya village in Maungdaw, he said.
“We went there today, [and] we found two pits 1,000 feet away from the site found yesterday,” he said. “One pit has 14 bodies, the next one has three. All the deceased were men, and no women this time.”
A government statement issued on Sunday, based on Ni Mal’s testimony, said that about 300 members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant Muslim group that has carried out deadly attacks on police outposts and border guard stations in northern Rakhine, arrested roughly 100 people from several Hindu villages in Kha Maung Seik village tract on Aug. 25, and killed most of them.
Among the bodies found were 20 women, 19 men, and six children, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported, citing Ni Mal as the source. Some were beheaded or had their throats slit.
The statement said the mass grave sites were first pointed out by a Hindu man from Yebaw Kya village who fled to neighboring Bangladesh during security operations by Myanmar forces to find those who carried out the most recent ARSA attack on Aug. 25. He relayed the information to fellow Hindu social leader Ni Maul from nearby Lay Mile village, who was in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe after fleeing violence in northern Rakhine.
About 1,000 meters to the west of Yebaw Kya village, the militants killed several men and women, and converted eight women to Islam and took them to Bangladesh, the villager said, according to the government’s statement.
The United Nations estimates that some 500 Hindus fled to Bangladesh after the Aug. 25 attacks, and some 30,000 Hindus and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in Maungdaw sought refuge in other areas of Rakhine state, The Irrawaddy said.
According to 2014 census results, Hindus make up only 0.5 percent of the population of Myanmar, where 88 percent of the people identify as Buddhist and 4.3 percent as Muslim.
Committee members visit area
Win Myat Aye, minister for social welfare, relief, and resettlement minister; Rakhine State chief minister Nyi Pu; and Colonel Phone Tint, minster for state security and border affairs, visited the mass graves on Monday.
Win Myat Aye chairs a 15-member committee appointed earlier this month by President Htin Kyaw to oversee implementation of the recommendations by the Rakhine Advisory Commission to probe causes of unrest in the ethnically and religiously divided state. The committee is also responsible for enacting counterterrorism measures in the state.
Headed by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, the commission issued a set of recommendations for the state in august, including a review of the country’s citizenship law — under which the Rohingya are currently ineligible for Myanmar citizenship — and an end to restrictions on the Rohingya to prevent further violence in the region.
More than 400 died and over 430,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled northern Rakhine in the last four weeks to escape the military offensive following the Aug. 25 attacks. The U.N. has called the crackdown “ethnic cleansing.”
Rights groups, nongovernmental organizations, and those who have fled have accused the Myanmar military of indiscriminate killings of civilians, torching Rohingya villages, and raping women during the most recent crackdown.
Other Rohingya among a previous group of about 90,000 who fled northern Rakhine after another crackdown in response to ARSA’s deadly attacks on border guard posts in October 2016 have made the same accusations.
The Myanmar government has denied most of the allegations in both cases and recently claimed that there have been no conflicts or security operations in the region since Sept. 5. It has blamed Muslim militants for setting fire to Rohingya villages.
Tensions between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine have been simmering for years since communal violence erupted between the two groups in 2012, leaving more than 200 people dead and tens of thousands displaced.
Rakhine’s 1.1 million stateless Rohingya, who are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, are subject to persecution and denied citizenship and access to basic services, with about 120,000 confined to internally displaced persons camps in the state.
Measures for other minorities
In a related development, Myanmar authorities will build more ethnic villages for the Mro, Khami, Thet, and Diagnet ethnic minority groups in Rakhine state to help them preserve their traditions and ethnic cultures, the secretary of the Rakhine state government told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Monday.
“We will help to build more ethnic villages for about 50 to 100 families,” Tin Maung Swe said.
Though the ethnic tribes mostly live in hilly regions, government officials said they will find suitable places to which they can relocate, but gave no further information about the number of villages they intend to build.
Tin Maung Swe said the villages are still in the planning stage and could be implemented this year.
The Rakhine state government has already established more than 20 ethnic villages for these groups.
In June, state lawmakers called on the government to build more ethnic Rakhine villages in Muslim-majority townships in the northern part of the state following the four-month crackdown on Rohingya Muslims after ARSA attacks last October that forced tens of thousands of residents to flee.
At the time, General Than Htut, deputy minister of border affairs, said 36 ethnic Rakhine villages had already been built in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships in northern Rakhine.
The government provided each new non-Muslim household in the village in the two townships with a place to live, two acres of farmland, one acre of garden space, a trishaw, a sewing machine, rice and other food supplies, and a cultivator, he said.
The state government started building ethnic villages to attract non-Muslims back to the area as a measure to balance out the population of which Rohingya and Kaman Muslims constitute the majority.
Reported by RFA’s Thiri Min Zin and Wai Yan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.