Myanmar troops have uncovered the bodies of 45 Hindu villagers as the army accused Rohingya Muslims of carrying out a massacre.
Soldiers say they are still searching for another 48 missing Hindus who are feared dead after the discovery of mass graves in Rakhine state containing skeletal remains, including of women and children.
Army chiefs say the villagers were killed amid attacks by Rohingya militants on police outposts. They say this justifies a brutal crackdown which has seen 480,000 people from the minority sect flee across the border to Bangladesh in a month
Myanmar’s army has accused Rohingya Muslims of massacring Hindu villagers in Rakhine state after the bodies of 45 people, including women and children, were found in mass graves
Witnesses said masked men stormed their village armed with machetes before hacking people to death. The army has used attacks such as this to justify their crackdown on the Rohingya
The UN has accused troops of systematically evicting the Rohingya, who have faced decades of persecution in the mainly Buddhist country.
Rights groups accuse troops of using arson to force the Rohingya out and block their return, a charge the army denies, accusing the Muslim minority of burning down their own homes.
On Wednesday a Myanmar minister, Win Myat Aye, was quoted in state media as saying the government would manage all fire-damaged land in Rakhine, a development likely to raise concern about the Rohingya refugees’ ability to return.
The army has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing, but has restricted press access to the conflict zone and has posted regular updates that blame Rohingya militants for the bloodshed.
The army and government have also sought to highlight the suffering of other ethnic groups swept up in the unrest, such as Rakhine Buddhists and Hindus.
On Wednesday the army flew journalists to the place where the mass graves of 45 Hindu villagers.
The decomposing skeletal bodies remained laid out in rows on a grassy field outside the village of Ye Baw Kyaw as distraught relatives wailed.
Myanmar authorities have accused Rohingya of violence against Buddhists and Hindus in Rakhine state, as well as attacking police
In the space of just a month 480,000 Rohingya have been driven across the border to Bangladesh as whole villages have been burned to the ground
Locals have helped identify 25 of the corpses, according to the government’s Information Committee.
Hindus who fled the area have told AFP that masked men stormed into their community that day and hacked victims to death with machetes before dumping them into freshly-dug pits.
Speaking to media on the army-led press trip, Maung Ba, a 32-year-old Hindu, said several of his relatives were among those brutally murdered.
‘I identified them based on their clothes and body shape,’ he said solemnly.
Ni Maul, a Hindu leader who has helped with the search, said authorities found the graves using testimony from eight Hindu women who were spared and brought to Bangladesh after they agreed to convert to Islam.
‘They kept the beautiful eight women alive to marry,’ he said.
Four Hindu women displaced in Bangladesh told AFP they were among the eight who escaped the massacre in the same area of Kha Maung Seik, with eight children in tow.
‘We begged for our lives, asking they spare the women,’ 22-year-old Bina Sheel told AFP at a small village for Hindu refugees in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar.
‘They asked if we would marry them. We said yes, to save our lives.’
All four women said they were taken to Rohingya Muslim camps inside Bangladesh by the attackers. Sheel said her captor urged her to convert to Islam before she was brought to the Hindu village by a local leader.
The accounts could not be independently confirmed. The crisis has intensified religious hatreds and fuelled ethnically-charged claims and counterclaims.
The focal point of the unrest, Rakhine’s Maungdaw district, was once home to several religious communities, with the Rohingya a majority.
But vast swathes of the border region are now completely emptied of Muslim residents.