Burma has admitted that its troops were involved in the killing of ten Rohingya Muslims who were found in a mass grave last month in the country’s northern state of Rakhine, where its military has been accused of ethnic cleansing.
In a rare admission of guilt, the Defence Ministry Information office released a statement on Facebook stating that its forces had killed ten suspected terrorists in the Inn Din village of Maung Daw Township on September 1.
“Action will be taken against the villagers who participated in the case and the members of security forces who broke the Rules of Engagement under the law,” the statement said.
The military claimed that they had rushed to Inn Din to protect frightened Buddhist villagers and had been attacked by “200 Bengalis” with sticks and swords, ten of whom were arrested and accused of having links to terrorists.
As troops were over-stretched with trying to maintain peace “the decision was made to kill them at the cemetery” rather than take them to the police station.
Statement then described how villagers dug a pit and the men were ordered to enter it, where they were shot by the security forces.
Before Wednesday’s admission, Burma’s military had denied any wrongdoing in the crackdown that began in late August and sparked a mass exodus of civilians across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Late last year a Doctors Without Borders report said that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month alone.
The village of Inn Din previously featured in a chilling report by human rights group Amnesty International, which contains eyewitness accounts from seven villagers who described how vigilantes and the military looted and burned homes and shot people as they fled.
Satellite images obtained by the group show how an area of Rohingya homes were burned to the ground, while non-Rohingya areas appear to have been left untouched.
“This grisly admission is a sharp departure from the army’s policy of blanket denial of any wrongdoing,” said James Gomez, Amnesty’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, following the military’s announcement.
“However, it is only the tip of the iceberg and warrants serious independent investigation into what other atrocities were committed amid the ethnic cleansing campaign that has forced out more than 655,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State in August,” he added.
Amnesty previously accused the Burmese military of committing “crimes against humanity” after the human rights group documented its targeted campaign of violence, including the mass murder of civilians and the widespread rape of Rohingya women and girls.