| 02.02,18. 06:51 AM |
Myanmar: Rohingya refugees recount massacre as five mass graves reported
Photo: Satellite images from May 26, 2017 (left) and December 20, 2017 (right) show the destruction of Gu Dar Pyin. (AP: DigitalGlobe)
Five mass graves have been reported by Rohingya Muslims refugees who survived attacks on their villages by Myanmar military.
This has been confirmed through multiple interviews with more than two dozen survivors in Bangladesh refugee camps and through time-stamped mobile phone videos.
Myanmar's Government regularly claims massacres never happened, and has acknowledged only one mass grave containing 10 "terrorists" in the village of Inn Din.
However, the new graves are the latest 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.
The UN special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said the military's operations against the Rohingya bear "the hallmarks of a genocide".
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement the graves "raise the stakes for the international community to demand accountability from Myanmar".
Repeated calls on Wednesday and Thursday to Myanmar's military communications office were unanswered.
Htun Naing, a local security police officer in Buthidaung township, where the village is located, said he "hasn't heard of such mass graves".
Myanmar has cut off access to Gu Dar Pyin, so it is unclear just how many people died, but satellite images show a village decimated.
Community leaders 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 have seen in the graves and strewn about the area.
Almost every villager interviewed 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, and smaller graves scattered around the village.
Soldiers armed with shovels and acid plotted the attack
Survivors said soldiers planned the August 27 attack, and tried to hide what they had done.
They came to the slaughter armed not only with rifles, knives, rocket launchers and grenades, but also with shovels to dig pits and acid to burn away faces and hands so the bodies could not be recognised
After more than 200 soldiers swept into Gu Dar Pyin about noon, Mohammad Sha, 37, a shop owner and farmer, hid in a grove of coconut trees near a river with more than 100 others.
They watched as the military searched Muslim homes while dozens of Buddhist neighbours, their faces partly covered with scarves, loaded the possessions they found into about 10 pushcarts.
Then the soldiers burned down the homes, shooting anyone who couldn't flee, Mr Sha said.
Buddhist villagers then moved through Gu Dar Pyin in a sort of mopping-up operation, using knives to cut the throats of the injured, survivors said, and pitching the young and the elderly into fires.
Thousands of people from the area hid deep in the jungle, stranded without food except for the leaves and trees they tried to eat.
"There were so many bodies in so many different places," said Mohammad Lalmia, 20, a farmer whose family owned a pond that became the largest of the mass graves.
"They couldn't hide all the death."
Eleven days after the attack, Mr Lalmia was fleeing soldiers patrolling near the mosque when he discovered a human hand sticking out of a cleared patch of earth.
He counted about 10 bodies on the grave's surface and estimated it held at least another 10.
Mr Lalmia and other villagers also saw another large grave in the area, and smaller graves containing as many as 10 bodies scattered about the village.
On September 9, villager Mohammad Karim, 26, captured three videos of mass graves time-stamped between 10:12am and 10:14am, when soldiers chased him away, he said.
In the Bangladesh refugee camps, nearly two dozen other Rohingya from Gu Dar Pyin confirmed the videos showed mass graves in the north of the village.