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Investigation in Myanmar Reveals Disturbing Massacre, At Least 5 Mass Graves


There's an Associated Press report today detailing a massacre and at least five mass graves in the Rakhine State in Myanmar. That's where the country's security forces carried out a brutal campaign against the Muslim minority Rohingya last August. The government insists it was an operation against Rohingya terrorists. As Michael Sullivan reports, the AP story differs. And a warning - some of the descriptions here are graphic.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: There are now at least 688,000 Rohingya in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh. And dozens of them talked to the AP about what happened in a village called Gu Dar Pyin on August 27. And some showed the AP time-stamped cellphone video of what they say was a massacre there. The survivors said the Myanmar military came with shovels to dig graves and acid to make the bodies impossible to identify.

PHIL ROBERTSON: What it shows is a degree of preparation which we haven't seen very clearly before.

SULLIVAN: Phil Robertson is deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

ROBERTSON: We've been receiving reports about these mass graves and about massacres. And it was just trying to find a way to learn what has happened in an area that has been completely shut off to the international community by the Burmese military.

SULLIVAN: Matthew Smith, who heads the Southeast Asia-focused human rights group Fortify Rights, agrees. This, he says, was new.

MATTHEW SMITH: We actually hadn't documented Myanmar army soldiers using acid to dissolve bodies. We have documented soldiers cutting bodies up and burying them in relatively shallow graves. We documented soldiers burning piles of bodies. But we've not yet documented the use of acid.

SULLIVAN: And that's important, says Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.

ROBERTSON: That shows an intention. And that goes to the point of intense preplanning. And that's one of the crucial issues where you cross over from crimes against humanity toward something like genocide.

SULLIVAN: Crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, genocide - all are terms that have been used before to describe what's happened to the Rohingya since August and before. But if the AP report is accurate, human rights advocates say, it puts even more pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi and the military to allow the international community to do what Myanmar has refused to do so far - allow unfettered access to northern Rakhine State. Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights.

SMITH: We're really concerned that Aung San Suu Kyi continues to deny access to U.N. fact-finders and monitors. And the longer that access is denied, the more difficult it will become to do the type of forensic fact-finding that is important in identifying victims, locating additional mass graves and the like.

SULLIVAN: Myanmar continues to insist there have been no massacres of Rohingya and no mass graves. The one exception - the 10 bodies found in late December, Rohingya executed by Myanmar's military that the military insists were terrorists like those who carried out the August attacks against Myanmar security forces. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.
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