YANGON – Local authorities unearthed 10 bodies near a graveyard in Inn Din village in southern Maungdaw Township, Rakhine State on Tuesday, according to government officials.
Local authorities have formed a temporary investigation team comprising officials from several agencies, including the Health Department.
A team member told The Irrawaddy that 10 heads and skeletons had been unearthed at the burial site. The team had concluded the remains belonged to victims of homicides that could have occurred as long as a year ago. All of the victims are adults. It was unclear whether the remains were those of Rohingya or Arakanese villagers.
“The killings did not happen recently; the remains have decomposed and we do not know if the victims are Rakhine or Muslim,” he said.
Security was tightened in the area as government troops started digging at the burial site. Locals were unable to say exactly how many bodies had been found or whether they were those of Rohingya Muslims.
A Maungdaw resident who had visited Inn Din village and who has close ties with military intelligence told The Irrawaddy that Arakanese villagers, local police and government security forces had killed Rohingya villagers in Inn Din in recent months, and that locals had taken photographs of the incidents leading up to the killing. Later, some residents disclosed the killings to Reuters reporters who visited the village, the source said. He said the reporters were the same pair who were later arrested on Dec. 12 under the Official Secrets Act.
He claimed that the two reporters had secretly given some of the photographs to the UN, rather than using them in their reports. He said intelligence officers followed the two reporters and arrested them in Yangon’s Htauk Kyant Township. The Irrawaddy could not independently verify his claims.
He said that Myanmar authorities had arrested the pair of journalists for leaking controversial photos to the UN which could bring a strong international reaction against the government and authorities had also started arresting lower-ranking members of the security forces as suspects in the killing of Rohingya villagers, in anticipation of an international condemnation of the scenes in the photos.
In a statement released on Dec. 18, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief said a person had informed government security forces of the discovery of unidentified bodies near Inn Din graveyard. The statement did not mention the number of bodies found, citing the ongoing investigation.
In an operation to restore stability in the region after a series of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), government troops conducted counterattacks starting on Aug. 25, the statement reads. It adds that if any security forces are found to have committed violations, or if crimes at Inn Din are linked with government troops, those responsible will be punished in line with the law.
The Army clearance operations drove out more than 620,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. The UN’s human rights council described the Army operation as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Independent regional lawmaker Than Maung Oo, who visited the village, said Inn Din was home to a mixed population of about 700 Muslim families and 170 Arakanese homes. He said Inn Din saw heavy clashes between ARSA and government troops in southern Maungdaw. Muslim villagers and ARSA supporters fled to neighboring Bangladesh.
The government has not released an estimate of how many Muslim militants were killed during the heavy fighting in Inn Din. Some locals speculated that dozens of people were killed in the clashes.
It’s unclear whether the bodies found on Monday are linked to the clashes between the Army and ARSA militants, or if the deaths occurred more recently. The Irrawaddy phoned Rakhine State Border Affairs Minister Col. Phone Tint and Maungdaw district administrator Ye Htut to ask for further information about the bodies found in the graveyard, but no one answered the calls.
On the evening of Dec. 12, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who had visited Inn Din village in recent months, were arrested by police in Htauk Kyant for allegedly possessing classified police reports. The pair have been charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
On Dec. 16, four schoolteachers and a resident of Inn Din village who had spoken to the reporters before the pair’s arrest were themselves detained by military intelligence. Two of the teachers were later released and the other two were taken to Rakhine’s capital, Sittwe, for further questioning.
On Monday, Maung Win Phyu, an Arakanese resident of Inn Din village, was arrested by police, according to the suspect’s wife, Aye Naw. She said her husband had spoken to a reporter whose name she could not recall. She could not say for sure whether the arrest was related to her husband’s conversation with the reporter.
“I have no details regarding his detention,” she said.
Regional legislator Than Maung Oo said one of the currently detained teachers was Maung Thein Phyu, who is head of Inn Din Kwa Son Primary School. Maung Thein Phyu, a former government soldier, actively campaigned for the Arakan National Party (ANP) during the 2015 elections. However, ANP lawmakers had no further details on the teacher’s detention.
Local publications reported that the two school teachers were being held at No. 1 Sittwe Police Station. The head of the Sittwe District Police, Win Naung, declined to comment.