The United States says a Reuters report about the massacre of Muslims last year has highlighted the need for an independent and credible investigation into allegations of atrocities in northern Rakhine State.
State Department spokeswoman Ms Heather Nauert said the report “highlights the ongoing and urgent need for Burmese authorities to cooperate” with such an investigation.
The report is a detailed account of a massacre at Inn Din village in northern Rakhine that is linked to the arrest of two Reuters reporters accused of breaching the 1923 Official Secrets Act.
The 4,600-word report, published on February 9, is accompanied by images of the 10 massacre victims before and after they were killed by villagers and soldiers at Inn Din on September 2 last year.
The images were provided by a Buddhist village elder, Reuters said.
The report carries the bylines of Ko Wa Lone, 31, and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, who have been in custody since December 12 following their arrest while investigating the massacre.
Reuters said its reconstruction of the massacre drew for the first time on interviews with Buddhist villagers who admitted torching Rohingya villages, burying bodies and killing Muslims.
In a statement released on January 10, the Tatmadaw acknowledged that 10 Rohingya men were massacred at Inn Din and claimed they were among a group of 200 “terrorists” who attacked the village.
Reuters said the military’s version of events was contradicted by accounts given by Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim witnesses.
“Buddhist villagers interviewed for this article reported no attack by a large number of insurgents on security forces in Inn Din,” Reuters said, adding that other interviews had revealed the massacre victims included fishermen, shopkeepers, an imam and two teenaged high school students.
It quoted a medical assistant at the Inn Din village clinic, Ko Aung Myat Tun, 20, as saying he had taken part is several raids to burn Muslim villages.
“Muslim houses were easy to burn because of the thatched roofs. You just light the edge of the roof,” he said.
Reuters said it was told by more than a dozen Buddhist villagers that the military and paramilitary police had organised Buddhist residents of Inn Din and in at least two other villagers to torch Rohingya homes.
The government and the Tatmadaw have repeatedly blamed Rohingya insurgents for burning villages and homes.
Reuters said it asked government spokersperson U Zaw Htay about the evidence it had uncovered and he replied, “We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials.”
If there was “strong and reliable primary evidence” of abuses, the government would investigate, he said.
Reuters said Zaw Htay expressed surprise when told that Buddhist villagers had admitted burning Rohingya homes, then added, “We recognise that many, many different allegations are there, but we need to verify who did it. It is very difficult in the current situation.”
Zaw Htay defended the military operation launched in Rakhine last August after coordinated attacks by Islamic insurgents on security posts.
“The international community needs to understand who did the first terrorist attacks. If that kind of terrorist attack took place in European countries, in the United States, in London, New York, Washington, what would the media say?”
Hearings are continuing against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to determine if they will be charged under the Official Secrets Act. If convicted they face up to 14 years in prison.