Myanmar Military to Court-Martial Troops over Mass Graves in Rakhine

By Htet Naing Zaw 2 September 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar Military will begin court-martial proceedings against a group of soldiers involved in fighting against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in Gutar Pyin village, in Rakhine State’s Buthidaung Township, two years ago after a military Court of Inquiry found the soldiers did not follow the rules of engagement. The village is the site of a mass grave that was exposed in news reports following the clash.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Sunday that “the military Court of Inquiry found there are grounds to believe the soldiers did not fully comply with the rules of engagement. Therefore, we will open a court-martial proceeding.”

He said, “The incident happened in August 2017, as the conflict [with ARSA] was escalating.”

He said the military (or Tatmadaw) would not release details of the incident, or any other information, while the trial is ongoing and the Court of Inquiry continues its investigation.

The military formed the Court of Inquiry in response to an Associated Press report on Feb. 1 stating that hundreds of bodies had been found in five mass graves near Gutar Pyin village. It said the bodies had been burned with acid in an apparent attempt to destroy them.

The report was based on video footage provided by Rohingya refugees now living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. The AP said it had interviewed at least two dozen refugees.

In February, the President’s Office denied the AP report, saying that no mass graves were found in Gutar Pyin village, during an inspection of the area on Feb.1 by officials and Muslim community leaders. The community leaders and local residents said there had been no mass killings, but reported that heavy clashes had erupted between government security forces and ARSA militants in Gutar Pyin on Aug. 28.

The government’s investigation team said in its statement at that time that during the fighting in Gutar Pyin, about 500 villagers joined a raid by ARSA militants on security forces, and that in the resulting fighting, a member of the security forces was injured and 19 militants were killed. It said the militants’ bodies were properly buried and opened a criminal case relating to the militants’ deaths under Section 50(i) of the Counter-terrorism Law at Nyaung Chaung Police Station.

The Rakhine State government initially planned to sue the AP, but later opted not to.

The Court of Inquiry is chaired by Major General Myat Kyaw. The investigation team visited Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships twice, with the most recent trip being made on July 15-Aug. 5.

A statement released in English by the Office of the Commander-in-chief reads, “According to the finding of the Court of Inquiry during its investigation of the area for two times, there occurred a situation where action is to be taken in accordance with the military discipline due to the weakness in following the instructions in some of the incidents at Gutabyin [Gutar Pyin] village.”

U Aung Thuang Shwe, a Lower House lawmaker from Buthidaung Township, told The Irrawaddy on Sunday that when there are complaints from victims, a proper investigation is needed. “If [the military] does it right and investigates at the victims’ request, they do not need to worry about the incident that happened here.”

The Gutar Pyin case is the second such investigation prompted by a media report.

Reuters reported on a case in Inn Din village in Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township in which 10 Rohingya men were killed.

Seven soldiers were prosecuted and sentenced to 10 years with hard labor in April last year over their roles in the killings. However, the soldiers were released from prison in November under a pardon from the Army chief.

The Myanmar military’s 2017 counterinsurgency operation followed attacks by ARSA in northern Rakhine State. It caused more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh, resulting in widespread allegations of human rights violations.

International pressure has mounted to have Tatmadaw commander-in-chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing tried at the International Criminal Court for human rights violations committed against the Rohingya Muslim community during the operation.

Military leaders have said the conflicts that erupted in Rakhine State in 2012, 2016 and 2017 were not initiated by the Tatmadaw or the indigenous people, but were started by outsiders. They say the Tatmadaw performed its duty to protect the security of the local people and Myanmar’s territory. They have also said that action would be taken against anyone found to have violated military ethics.

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