At Scene of Rohingya Massacre, Burmese Villagers Wary of Press

INN DIN, RAKHINE STATE, MYANMAR Kyaw Soe Moe, the head man of this northern Rakhine state best known as the site of a massacre of 10 Muslim men and boys by their Buddhist neighbors and the Burmese military, isn’t much inclined to speak with the press.

That incident is all the press wants to discuss, says Kyaw Soe Moe, who refers to Rohingya as Bengalis.

I was not even here, he said. I arrived here only after the incident. I became the village head something like 10 months ago, so I did not have any knowledge [of it].

Recently, a media group came down here, an international one, and they asked me about that incident. But when I asked them, ‘Did you know one of our villagers, Rakhine ethnic, was killed by Bengalis? Do you know Hindu villagers were killed by those terrorist, those Bengalis?’ Those media groups did not even know about those incidents. They only wanted to know about this incident. So how could they describe about us fairly?

Four Reuters reporters revealed details of the Sept. 2, 2017, attack earlier this year. Tied together, the Rohingya, members of the Muslim minority, watched their neighbors dig a grave before eight were shot by Myanmar troops, according to the Reuters report. Buddhist villagers hacked the other two to death.

When they were being buried, some were still making noises, said Soe Chay, a Buddhist who told Reuters he was one of the gravediggers.

Other Inn Din villagers did not want to speak with VOA and reporters from other media outlets on the government-escorted visit.

When approached, the villagers described hiding in the local monastery because the Muslims, the Bengalis, were attacking them. Because the massacre took place about a mile from the village, they said, I did not know about it.

Pastoral setting

The village, nestled amid rice fields surrounded by distant mountains, sits on the main road to the Bangladesh border. People go about their business, with children, women and older people on the streets.

We are secure now because they [the Muslims] are not around us, Kyaw Soe Moe said. Before the massacre, the Inn Din was one of the Rakhine state villages surrounded by Muslim villages. As long as they are not here, we are secure.

Most of the local Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh.

The Inn Din massacre came during an eruption of violence that came after Rohingya insurgents, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), attacked government security posts in August 2017.

In a subsequent crackdown, which included the massacre at Inn Din, Medecins Sans FrontiAres (MSF) estimates at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed between Aug. 25 and Sept. 24, 2017. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called the military’s response disproportionate and indiscriminate.

The Burmese military campaign also forced more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Today, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is the world’s largest refugee camp.

The Myanmar government has blamed Rohingya insurgents for all but 10 of the killings, according to the Reuters investigation.

The Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre prompted Myanmar police to arrest two of the Reuters reporters, Burmese citizens Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, on Dec. 12, 2017. They are now appealing the seven-year sentences for violating the Official Secrets Act that they are serving, sentences that Myanmar de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defended. Seven soldiers have been convicted of murder.

In August, a United Nations fact-finding mission issued a report that called for Myanmar, to be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) because crimes in Rakhine state, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts. The report called for the prosecution of Myanmar’s military leaders, who had used their now-removed Facebook pages to spread anti-Rohingya sentiment.

There is no evidence at all that this is ethnic cleansing, let alone genocide, Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador Hau Do Suan told VOA in August. This kind of branding and accusation needs concrete evidence. It also needs legal proof.

The Rohingya are one of several ethnic minorities in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where most people view them as economic migrants from Bangladesh. The government has denied them citizenship, even though most can show that their families have been in Myanmar for generations. They are discriminated against and are not allowed to move freely. They lack access to education and health care.

Although Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement a year ago on repatriating the Rohingya to Myanmar, the displaced have yet to return to their homes, and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has accused Myanmar of delaying the Rohingyas’ return.

Source: Voice of America