More than a dozen Muslim Rohingyas were killed by a Buddhist mob hacking its way through a remote village in western Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, a rights group and villager were reported saying Thursday.
A lawmaker told RFA’s Myanmar Service that hundreds of security forces have been rushed to the scene of the riots in Maungdaw township’s Duchiratan village, while an official in Rakhine state said tension was running high but denied knowledge of any deaths.
It was the latest violence to rock the state, home to minority Rohingya Muslims where deadly riots first erupted in 2012, killing about 200 and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
The advocacy group Arakan Project, which has been documenting rights abuses against Rohingyas for about a decade, claimed that women and children—from as few as 10 to as many as dozens—had been hacked to death, citing sources.
The violence followed increased tensions when a group of extremist Buddhist monks toured the area, calling for the expulsion of all Rohingyas, Chris Lewa, an official of the group, was quoted saying by the Associated Press.
That some of the victims appeared to have been stabbed with knives, not shot or beaten, "would clearly indicate the massacre was committed by [Buddhist] Rakhine villagers, rather than the police or army," the Arakan Project said in a briefing note Thursday.
AP also quoted an unnamed resident as saying that violence stemmed from the discovery of three bodies in a ditch near Duchiratan village by several firewood collectors, who believed they were among a group of eight Rohingya who went missing after being detained by authorities days earlier.
The resident said that when the firewood collectors alerted friends and neighbors, they returned to the area to take pictures with their cell phones, and later that evening five police officers went to Duchiratan to confiscate the devices.
A crowd in the village turned on the police, he said, beating them and chasing them off, but additional police returned at 2:00 a.m. the next morning, saying one policeman had gone missing.
The resident said that authorities surrounded the village, destroying property and looting livestock and other valuables. Nearly all of the men in the village fled, leaving women, children, and the elderly behind, he said.
The resident said 17 women and five children had been killed.
Another account on Rohingyablogger.com, which monitors human rights abuses on the Rohingyas and other Muslims in Myanmar, said that villagers had initially discovered eight Rohingyas dead in a ditch. It claimed that they had been killed by Duchiratan administrator Aung Zan Phyu, before police confronted villagers.
The villagers turned on the authorities, who killed several of them before fleeing, but not before the Rohingyas hacked local police sergeant Aung Kyaw Thein to death, the account said.
Later, a larger group of police and Rakhines returned to the village, killing a total of 18 people—seven of whom were children, according to the blog.
It said several women were raped, at least two people were severely injured and that a number of people had been arrested, leaving the village empty.
Shwe Maung, a member of parliament from nearby Buthidaung township, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that he had heard about the deaths in Duchiratan, but could not confirm they had taken place.
“There are things that are being said by people who definitely know about it, but I heard it secondhand so it’s hard for me to say what is true and what is not,” he said.
“No one can go into that village. It’s difficult to say whether the women and children were killed. The best thing is for concerned security forces and authorities from the Home Affairs Department to investigate and report their findings.”
Shwe Maung said that a source had reported to him by phone that eight people were found dead in the nearby jungle.
He said that another MP, Aung Myo Min, had told him that around 400 security forces had entered the village when he was at the scene.
Shwe Maung said that he was informed that police had looted shops and “harassed” the local women, and that later that evening they opened fire on the village, causing “lots of people to run away.”
“From about 4,000 [people], only 20 women, 15 children and four elderly people remain. They were arrested and released. This is true,” he said.
“But as there are no other people in the [village], we have no way of confirming who or how many died, and what happened. Only if we hold an open investigation will we get the true answer.”
He said assurances should be given to the villagers that they would be safe to return before “investigating and taking action on the perpetrators only.”
Unaware of deaths
AP quoted Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing as saying that police had surrounded the village because they were looking for the policeman who went missing, but that he was not aware that anyone had been killed.
Around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas live in Rakhine state, but most of them, according to rights groups, have been denied citizenship as they are considered by most in Myanmar and the government to be illegal immigrants.
Most people in Myanmar call the Rohingyas “Bengali,” indicating that they have illegally immigrated from neighboring Bangladesh.
Rights groups have said Rohingya Muslims bore the brunt of the violence in Rakhine state in 2012 and 2013 and blamed radical anti-Muslim Buddhist monks for stoking tensions in other areas of the country.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.