RANGOON— Arakanese Buddhist villagers in the company of government security forces attacked a Rohingya Muslim village in southern Maungdaw Township in strife-torn Arakan State on Tuesday morning, leading to the deaths of possibly dozens of Rohingya women and children, a human rights group reports.
Many other villagers have been arrested, while hundreds have since fled their homes, according to initial reports from the region. Government officials claim that a policeman went missing after he was attacked by villagers and they denied the reports of the Rohingya killings.
The violence occurred in southern Maungdaw Township in the Muslim village of Du Char Yar Tan, according to the Arakan Project, a Thailand-based Rohingya rights group that has a local monitoring network in Maungdaw.
The officers had come to the village on Monday night “to confiscate mobile phones and check family lists,” the Arakan Project said. “As police entered houses, angry Rohingya villagers gathered and the mob attacked and beat the police.” Many Rohingya men then fled the village out of fear for arrest, it said.
Police returned in the early hours of Tuesday morning with soldiers and many Arakanese Buddhist villagers to search for a policeman who had gone missing during the previous unrest—a claim that the Rohingya villagers deny.
The Arakan Project, which talked to numerous villagers and other sources on the ground, alleged that the Arakanese Buddhist mob and security forces then looted and attacked the women and children who had remained in Du Char Yar Tan village, possibly killing dozens.
“The joint forces and [Arakan] villagers looted many houses in the village. Women and children were brutally killed (as many men had already fled) and some were allegedly raped. The exact number is unknown so far—figures we received vary between 10 and 60,” the organization said in a briefing on the incident.
The organization quoted a local resident who had briefly returned to the village later as saying that he saw the dead bodies of two women and a boy who had been killed by stabbing.
“Stabbings with knives (rather than shooting) would clearly indicate that the massacre was committed by [Arakan] villagers rather than police or army, but in the presence of law enforcement agencies who also did nothing to stop it,” the group said.
It noted, however, that it had received conflicting reports from the isolated Muslim-majority region in northern Arakan State, which is administered by government security forces.
The organization said dozens of Rohingya villagers—including women and children—were rounded up in the aftermath of the unrest on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Arakan Project said the violence had been preceded by a recent visit of Buddhist monk U Wirathu of the nationalist 969 movement, who reportedly told the Arakanese that they are the only “sons of the soil” and could drive out the Rohingyas.
Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut on Friday morning denied the reports of Rohingya killings.
“The police are investigating the case of the missing policeman,” he told The Irrawaddy, while speaking on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Nations Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Bagan.
“We have had no information about the killings that have been reported in the media. Those reports might be a cover-up, because of the policeman going missing,” he said.
Arakan State spokesperson Win Myaing provided few details of the outbreak of bloody violence, but claimed that about 80 Muslim villagers had “attacked” policemen on Monday night and an officer called Aung Kyaw Thein had gone missing. He gave no reasons for the attack by the Rohingyas.
“The local army is on the ground and police forces are still searching for the missing policeman. We did not know yet whether he has died already or not,” he said.
A Muslim resident of Maungdaw town named Husson said he met some of the villagers from Du Char Yar Tan, adding that they had told him that six villagers were killed and hundreds had fled. On Thursday morning, some 50 Rohingya villagers were arrested by authorities in relation to the unrest, he added.
Aanis, a Muslim man who lives nearby Du Char Yar Tan village, said, “Many families from that village have run away and tried to escape to other villages, some are hiding in my village.”
Aung Myo Min, a Muslim Arakan State lawmaker with the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said he and state officials visited Du Char Yar Tan village on Tuesday and found it was largely deserted, except for a few dozen elderly villagers and some women.
“I didn’t have a chance to talk to them. I don’t know exactly what happened on [Monday] night or if anyone was killed,” he said, adding that several thousand Rohingyas lived in Du Char Yar Tan.
Aung Myo Min said he saw no dead or injured villagers.
Shwe Maung, a Muslim Lower House lawmaker who represents Buthidaung Township for the USDP, said he heard conflicting reports about the numbers of villagers killed and injured.
“A lot of people are missing. Normally when they are missing family members, Rohingya people think they are dead,” he said, adding that hundreds of security forces remained stationed at Du Char Yar Tan village.
“Now the situation is very tense, the security forces are still in the village,” Shwe Maung said.
In June and October 2012, two waves of deadly inter-communal violence between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims swept through western Burma’s Arakan State, killing almost 200 people, destroying thousands of homes and displacing 142,000 people, mostly Muslims.
Burma’s government has been accused of tacitly supporting Buddhist mob violence. It does not recognize the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority as citizens and officials refer to them as “Bengalis” to suggest that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The Rohingyas claim they have lived in Arakan for generations and are entitled to citizenship.
Additional reporting by Simon Roughneen in Bagan.