Myanmar Denies Report of ‘Massacre’ in Rakhine
The government of Myanmar has answered a report by the Associated Press that said there are mass burials in a village in Rakhine state.
The AP's report on February 2 said that members of Myanmar's security forces had carried out a massacre in the village of Gu Dar Pyin. The incident reportedly took place on August 27.
The AP noted that witnesses, satellite pictures and video from mobile phones provided the evidence for its story. It also said that security forces burned some of the dead bodies with acid to hide the victims' identities.
Seventy-five bodies have been found in graves in the village, the AP reported. But it added people living in the village say that 400 people were killed.
The incident happened days after attacks by fighters from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a group fighting Myanmar's government.
Myanmar's government answers AP report
One day after the AP published its report, the government said local officials had visited the village to investigate the claims. The government stated that villagers told them "they had not heard of any massacres near their village."
The government said ARSA fighters and about 500 villagers attacked security forces. The security forces acted, they said, in self-defense.
The full government response appeared in the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper. It said that 19 "bodies of terrorists" were found along with weapons -- including knives and spears.
The government has since said it may seek legal action against the AP.
Lauren Easton, the AP's director of media relations, defended the story. In an email to VOA, she said, "The Associated Press stands by its reporting."
Human rights groups have called for Myanmar to permit an independent team to investigate incidents in Rakhine State. The area in the western part of the country has largely been closed to reporters and activists since last August.
Rights groups call for an investigation
Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council created a mission to investigate the situation in western Myanmar.
But Myanmar denied visas to members of the mission as well as to U.N. Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee. She submitted a final report on her findings on February 1 after meeting with refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh and Thailand.
In the report, Lee said, "the civilian government has failed to usher in a new era of openness and transparency and is instead persisting with repressive practices of the past."
Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum was a member of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. The group released its final report to the government of Myanmar in August.
She called the AP report "deeply troubling."
Van den Assum told VOA that the government reacted to the report too quickly. "This is simply not credible for serious crimes that require in-depth investigations," she said.
She also said the U.N. mission will present its first report in March. It will be based on research done outside the country. She added, "No one should underestimate the importance of this report."
David Mathieson of the activist group Human Rights Watch is a researcher. He told VOA that Myanmar's attack on the AP report is another action against press freedom. He noted that in December two Reuters reporters were arrested and are still being held. The two men were covering the military campaign in Rakhine state.
An estimated 680,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled military operations in western Myanmar and gone to neighboring Bangladesh.
The U.N. has compared the situation there to "ethnic cleaning."
I'm Mario Ritter.
Oliver Slow reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.