Myanmar has come under pressure from the United Nations, the United States, and human rights groups to hold a swift independent probe into the reported killings of at least 48 Muslims purportedly by Buddhist mobs in volatile Rakhine state.
President Thein Sein's government however issued a statement Friday vehemently denying reports of the violence earlier this month, saying they were based on "unjustified conclusions drawing from unverified information" and warning that releasing such information would be tantamount to interference in the internal affairs of Myanmar.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, citing what she called "credible" information, said that more than 40 Rohingya Muslims were reportedly killed in two "serious" incidents between Jan. 9 and 13 in Du Chee Yar Tan village in Rakhine, home to the minority Rohingyas, where riots have left more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless since 2012.
In the first incident on Jan. 9, Pillay said eight Rohingya Muslim men were attacked and killed by local ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. This was followed by a clash four days later in which a police sergeant was captured and killed by the Rohingya villagers, she said.
Following this, on the evening of Jan. 13, at least 40 Rohingya Muslim men, women, and children were killed in Du Chee Yar Tan village by police and local Rakhines, she said in a statement issued Thursday, adding that information gathered by the U.N. has already been shared with the Myanmar government.
"I deplore the loss of life in Du Chee Yar Tan and call on the authorities to carry out a full, prompt, and impartial investigation, and ensure that victims and their families receive justice," Pillay said. "My office stands ready to support this process.”
“By responding to these incidents quickly and decisively, the government has an opportunity to show transparency and accountability, which will strengthen democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar,” she said.
The U.N. also cited reports that 10 Rohingya men from Du Chee Yar Tan village, which is located in southern Maungdaw township, have been detained, expressing concerns for their treatment in detention.
US 'deeply disturbed'
The U.S. State Department said that it shared the U.N.'s deep concern about the violence and also called for a probe into the reported killings.
"We are deeply disturbed by reports that at least 40 people have been killed, as well as the disappearance of a police officer, and we reiterate our call for the Government of Burma [Myanmar] to launch an immediate, credible and independent investigation into the violence and hold accountable those responsible," the department's spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
"We continue to encourage the Government of Burma to work toward a durable solution in Rakhine State that addresses the underlying causes of conflict in the state to create the conditions for sustainable peace and development," she said, adding that the United States was ready to assist in such efforts.
Myanmar's Foreign Ministry on Friday blamed the foreign media and some international agencies for issuing reports on the incidents in Du Chee Yar Tan village based on "unjustified conclusions drawing from unverified information."
Government side of story
Explaining its side of the story, the ministry said that during routine patrol duty in the village on Jan. 13, a five-member police patrol team was surrounded and threatened by a 100-strong Rohingya Muslim mob wielding sticks and knives.
"As the mob advanced with visible threat, the patrol team had to leave the vicinity," it said, adding that team discovered later that their leader was missing.
"Remobilized police and security forces revisited the same vicinity in search of the lost police sergeant. They were again threatened by over 500 Rohingyas armed with sticks and knives. In order to deter them from being physically attacked, eight warning shots were fired. However, there were no civilian injuries or casualties," the ministry said.
During the search for the missing policeman, the authorities had discovered clues such as a "blood-stained uniform, belt, and a pair of boots," it said.
It made no mention of the reported vigilante attacks on the Rohingyas.
"The international media and international agencies should release only information which is verified with responsible officials of the government. Failing to do so, releasing unverified information would tantamount to interfering [in the] internal affairs of the host country," the statement said.
It called on resident foreign diplomatic missions to "faithfully observe fundamental diplomatic practices in line with the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations."
Aid group says it treated patients
But information provided Friday by aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), among a few outside groups allowed to operate in the region, raised doubts on the government statement.
MSF said it had treated at least 22 patients with injuries believed to be from violence in the village.
"MSF has treated at least 22 patients, including several wounded, that are believed to be victims of the violence that erupted in Du Char Yar Tan village in southern Maungdaw township on Jan. 14," said Peter-Paul de Groote, the charity's head in Myanmar, according to Reuters news agency.
The organization said most victims had suffered knife wounds, while one was shot and three were beaten, one severely.
MSF said it was concerned that more victims could need medical treatment and urged the government to allow access to the area.
Thailand-based rights group Fortify Rights was also quoted saying that it had spoken to witnesses and other sources who confirmed the killings, believed to be the deadliest incident in Rakhine state since 2012, when two rounds of violence between local Rakhines and Rohingyas sparked religious unrest that has since spread across the country, leaving some 250 people dead.
Though Du Char Yar Tan village has been sealed off by security forces, Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights said some residents have been able to return during the day and, as of Wednesday, reported that some bodies were seen in abandoned homes, the Associated Press reported.
Reports received by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch say that police authorities have orally issued a blanket order permitting the arrest of all Rohingya men and boys over the age of 10 in the area.
"In the event such an order has been issued, it should be rescinded immediately and authorities should act to ensure the safety of the entire population in the area," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
Myanmar's government considers most of the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in the country to be illegal immigrants, although many of them have lived in the country for decades. The U.N. has referred to the group as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
“The Burmese [Myanmar] authorities need to promptly and transparently investigate this deadly violence, prosecute those responsible, and ensure aid gets to those in need,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Official discrimination against the Rohingya population and impunity for past abuses has created a fertile ground for new atrocities to take place,” he said.
Myanmar President Thein Sein visited Rakhine state in October last year, calling on Buddhists and Muslims to sink their differences and prevent further bloodshed, as rights groups warned that the unending sectarian strife could dampen his reform program, which has earned praise across the globe and resulted in the lifting of long-running international sanctions imposed during the previous military junta rule.
Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.