By OLIVER SLOW | FRONTIER
YANGON – The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army was responsible for at least one massacre that saw almost 100 Hindu people killed in northern Rakhine State in August last year, according to a report published today by Amnesty International.
The human rights-focused organisation said they had conducted dozens of interviews in Myanmar and Bangladesh, and collected photographic evidence analysed by forensic experts.
ARSA was responsible for the August 25 attacks on police outposts, which led to an army crackdown that has seen almost 700,000 people – overwhelmingly Rohingya – fleeing over the border into Bangladesh.
“It’s hard to ignore the sheer brutality of ARSA’s actions, which have left an indelible impression on the survivors we’ve spoken to,” said Ms Tirana Hassan, Crisis Response Director for Amnesty.
On the morning of August 25, ARSA attacked Hindu villagers at Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik, in a cluster of villages known as Kha Maung Seik, in the far north of Maungdaw Township, the report said. At the time of the attacks Hindu villagers were living close to Rohingya and Rakhine neighbours.
According to testimonies given by witnesses, armed men dressed in black and local Rohingya villagers in plain clothes rounded up dozens of Hindu people, before robbing them, tying them up and blindfolding them. The villagers were then marched to the outskirts of the villages and separated into groups of men, women and young children. Fifty-three of them were then killed “execution-style”, starting with the men, the report said.
Those killed included 20 men, 10 women and 23 children, 14 of whom were under the age of eight, according to a list obtained by Amnesty.
Eight Hindu women and eight of their children were abducted and kept alive after the women agreed to “convert” to Islam. Days later they escaped to Bangladesh, and were repatriated to Myanmar in October 2017 with the help of Myanmar and Bangladeshi authorities.
“[The men] held knives and long rods. They tied our hands behind our backs and blindfolded us,” said Ma Bina Bala, 22, a survivor. “I asked what they were doing. One of them replied, ‘You and Rakhine are the same, you have a different religion, you can’t live here.”
She said the man spoke the Rohingya language, and that after she was beaten she gave the men her gold and money.
One the same day all 46 Hindu men, women and children in nearby Ye Nauk Kyar disappeared. Members of the Hindu community in northern Rakhine suspect they were killed by the same ARSA fighters, the report said.
It said the total number of those killed at Ye Bauk Kyar and Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik is 99.
“In this brutal and senseless act, members of ARSA captured scores of Hindu women, men and children and terrorised them before slaughtering them outside their own villages. The perpetrators of this heinous crime must be held to account,” said Hassan.
The Myanmar government has consistently accused the international community of ignoring ARSA’s role in the crisis.
“The Myanmar government cannot criticise the international community as being one-sided while at the same time denying access to northern Rakhine State,” said Hassan. “The full extent of ARSA’s abuses and the Myanmar military’s violations will not be known until independent human rights investors, including the UN Fact-Finding mission, are given full and unfettered access to Rakhine State.”
The government has denied access to a UN Fact-Finding mission tasked last March with investigating the human rights situation in Myanmar, with a focus on Rakhine State.
Little is known about ARSA, which announced its arrival into Rakhine State with attacks on three police outposts in Maungdaw in October 2016, killing nine officials. The group originally operated under the name Harakah al-Yaqin, but later changed its name to ARSA.
The shadowy movement is believed to be led by Ata Ullah, a Rohingya who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, but has spent several years in Saudi Arabia.
In the immediate aftermath of the August attacks, an unverified Twitter account claiming to represent ARSA said they were a “legitimate step”.
The Amnesty report is published nine months after the attacks, and as Myanmar and Bangladesh struggle to reach an agreement on repatriating returnees to Rakhine. Authorities in Myanmar have made repatriation a priority, despite the international view that conditions on the ground are not conducive to returns.
During a visit to Myanmar last week, Mr Mark Green, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, called on both countries to commit to “concrete steps” that would help move the issue forward.
“Concrete actions are important because they are a clear demonstration of policy,” Green told reporters at the end of his trip, which included a meeting with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and visits to Rakhine State and the refugee camps in Bangladesh.