YANGON–Rohingya Muslim insurgents said on Saturday that 10 Rohingya found in a mass grave in Burma’s troubled Rakhine state last month were “innocent civilians”, and not members of their group – the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), better know locally as the Harakah al-Yaqin (faith movement in Arabic).
Burma’s military said earlier this week its soldiers had killed 10 captured Islamic “terrorists” during insurgent attacks at the beginning of September, after Buddhist villagers had forced the captured men into a grave the villagers had dug.
It was a rare acknowledgment of wrongdoing by the Burmese military during its operations in the western state of Rakhine.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), whose attacks on security posts starting last August sparked sweeping military operations in the Muslim-majority northern part of Rakhine, said it “welcomes the admission” of “war crimes” by the “Burmese terrorist army”.
“We hereby declare that these ten innocent Rohingya civilians found in the said mass grave in Inn Din Village Tract were neither ARSA nor had any association with ARSA”, the group said in a statement on Twitter.
A Burmese government spokesman said in response to ARSA’s statement that sometimes “terrorists and villagers were allied” in attacks against security forces.
“We have already said it is very difficult to segregate who is a terrorist and who are innocent villagers,” spokesman Zaw Htay said. “There will be an ongoing investigating process whether they are members of ARSA or not.”
The Burmese military did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Burma’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Friday it was “positive” that the country’s military was taking responsibility for the actions of troops.
“It is a new step for our country,” she told a joint news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono in Burma’s capital of Naypyitaw.
“I see it that way because a country needs to take responsibility for the rule of law in the country, and this is the first step on the road of taking responsibility and it is a positive thing,” she said, according to a transcript of the news conference posted on her Facebook page.
On Dec. 18, the military announced that another mass grave, this time containing 10 bodies had been found at the coastal village of Inn Din, about 30 miles north of the state capital Sittwe. The army appointed a senior officer to investigate.
A statement from the military on Wednesday said its investigation had found that members of the security forces had taken part in the killings and action would be taken against them.
Some civilians wanted to kill the 10 men to avenge the death of an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist man in Inn Dinn village named Maung Ni and would face punishment, the military said.
On Saturday, a lawyer for one of Maung Ni’s sons said police were seeking murder charges against the son, named Tun Aye, for taking part in the killings. Lawyer Khin Win said a murder complaint against the son was filed with local prosecutors last week in Maungdaw, the nearest town to Inn Din.
Tun Aye was one of four Inn Din villagers detained by police on Dec. 15, said Khin Win. The other three had been released, he said.
National police spokesman Thet Naing said he was not aware of the murder complaint.
The current Rohingya crisis erupted after ARSA insurgent attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 in Rakhine triggered a fierce military response under the command of ousted Major General Maung Maung Soe.
For the General’s oversight of the ARSA clearance operation, President Trump listed Maung Maung Soe in the annex of an executive order targeting 13 human rights offenders on Dec. 21 which immediately blocked his property and any actions within the United States.
Following allegations of widespread human rights abuse against Rohingya civilians including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, and the widespread burning of villages, the United Nations and the United States denounced the actions of the Burmese military as ethnic cleansing.
Burma has denied ethnic cleansing, saying its security forces had mounted legitimate counter-insurgency clearance operations.
The country is in the early stages of a fragile transition to democracy after being ruled by a junta for 49 years. Under a 2008 constitution, the military generals have retained their autonomy on matters of defense, security and border issues. Three generals are members of the cabinet over whom Suu Kyi has little control.
Suu Kyi has said that any alleged atrocities should be substantiated and investigated.
The violence had led to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, both Muslim and Hindu, fleeing across Burma’s border into Bangladesh.
By Thu Thu Aung