'Five mass graves found' in Myanmar

One of the reported mass graves. Credit: AP

More than five mass graves have reportedly been found in a village in Myanmar, an investigation by the Associated Press (AP) has found.

The reported discoveries in Gu Dar Pyin come as Rohingya refugees flee mass murder, rape, and the burning down of entire villages in what the UN described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" in the Asian nation by the Myanmar military.

However, the Myanmar Government claims such massacres of the Rohingya have never happened, and only acknowledged one mass grave in a different area of the country which they say contains the bodies of 10 "terrorists".

More than 620,000 Rohingya men, women and children are thought to have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following persecution from the Burmese military in their native state of Rakhine, which began in August.

In December, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that at least 6,700 people had died in 2017 in violence attributed to attacks against the Rohingya, an estimated 730 of who were children below the age of five.

The violence in Myanmar began on August 25, when Myanmar's military, police and local militias launched the operation to clear Rohingya in Rakhine state, in response to attacks by insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

Gu Dar Pyin burns in distance. Credit: AP

AP spoke to survivors in refugee camps in Bangladesh and also saw time-stamped videos on mobile phones of the alleged mass graves in Gu Dar Pyin.

One man AP spoke to, Noor Kadir, recalled how he had been with 14 friends in the village on August 27, 2017, when they came under-fire from soldiers, killing 11 of them.

Days later, Mr Kadir said, he found six of his friends lying among bodies in two mass graves.

He continued that he was only able to recognise them by the colours of their shorts, since their faces had either been burned away by acid or shot too much.

Villagers said soldier burnt down their village. Credit: AP

Myanmar has now cut off access to Gu Dar Pyin, making it difficult to ascertain how many people died, but satellite images show a destroyed village.

Community leaders say they have compiled a list of 75 dead so far, but there are fears the number could be as high as 400.

On Thursday, UN special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said that the military's operations against the Rohingya bear "the hallmarks of a genocide".

Gu Dar Pyin burns in distance. Credit: AP/Mohammad Karim

Villagers say there are three large mass graves at Gu Dar Pyin's northern entrance, where witnesses say soldiers herded and killed most of the Rohingya.

Others added that there were two more mass graves nearby, and other, smaller graves scattered around the village.

Videos obtained by AP, dating almost two weeks after the killings, show partially-buried corpses and others burnt by acid.

Survivors said soldiers planned the attack and tried to hide what they had done.

They said the more than 200 soldiers arrived at the village armed not only with rifles, knives, rocket launchers and grenades, but also with shovels to dig pits and acid to burn away faces and hands so that the bodies could not be recognised.

They continued that soldiers came at the village from different angles, in what they said was a bid to prevent escape.

Gu Dar Pyin on the left in May 2017, and on the right in December 2017. Credit: AP/DigitalGlobe

Mohammad Sha, 37, a shop owner and farmer, recalled how he hid in a grove of coconut trees near a river with more than 100 others.

Mr Sha said they watched as the military searched Muslim homes along with dozens of Buddhist villagers, their faces partly covered with scarves, loaded the possessions from the homes into pushcarts.

Then, he said, the soldiers burned down the homes, shooting anyone who was unable to flee.

Others told how after the killings, Buddhist villagers then moved through Gu Dar Pyin in a sort of mopping-up operation, using knives to cut the throats of the injured, and pitching the young and the elderly into fires.

One woman, Rohima Khatu, told how she searched for her husband in one of the mass graves at the village's northern entrance: "There were dead bodies everywhere, bones and body parts, all decomposing, so I couldn't tell which one was my husband.

"I was weeping while I was there. I was crying loudly, 'Where did you go? Where did you go?'

"I have lost everything."

The UN said reports such as that from Gu Dar Pyin must be investigated, adding a fact-finding mission and access to Rakhine state for the world's media must be allowed.

Meanwhile, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the reports on Gu Dar Pyin "raise the stakes for the international community to demand accountability from Myanmar...

"It's time for the EU and the US to get serious about identifying and levelling targeted sanctions against the Burmese military commanders and soldiers responsible for these rights crimes, and for the UN to lead the charge for a global arms embargo, and an end of training and engagement for the Tatmadaw," he said, using the local name for Myanmar's military.