YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — At least 163 people have been killed and 91 others have gone missing over the past year in attacks carried out by Rohingya Muslim militants in Myanmar's restive Rakhine state, Myanmar government officials said.
The comments Tuesday came after the bodies of at least 45 Hindus were discovered in three mass graves earlier in the week. The government blames Muslim insurgents for the killings, although they denied responsibility in a statement Wednesday.
The government's Information Committee released a statement on its Facebook page saying that from October 2016 to August 2017, at least 79 people were killed in the attacks and 37 have gone missing, including local officials, public servants and security forces. Another 84 were killed and 54 have gone missing since Aug. 25, when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, launched attacks on at least 30 police outposts.
The government had previously said that nearly 400 alleged insurgents had been killed since Aug. 25.
On Monday, Myanmar officials said they had discovered at least 45 slain Hindus in three mass graves in conflict-torn northern Rakhine state. Twenty-eight were uncovered from two mass graves on Sunday and 17 were discovered in a different mass grave in the same area on Monday.
Local authorities said the 45 bodies were among about 100 Hindus missing since ARSA carried out the simultaneous attacks on the police outposts.
"We are still searching for more mass graves in that same area," said Maj. Zayar Nyein of Border Guard Police Headquarters in Maungdaw. "I don't know exactly why these terrorists killed that many people. The Hindu village was very much up north and communication was not that good, and that's why security forces were not able to reach out to the area sooner."
ARSA issued a statement Wednesday on Twitter denying it had abused civilians in the villages where the bodies were found. It said it has sympathy for the victims of war crimes and other atrocities committed in the fighting, and would investigate any such crimes committed by Myanmar authorities.
There was no way to immediately verify either the government or ARSA accounts.
A government crackdown that followed the attacks left more than 200 Rohingya Muslim villages burned and sent at least 480,000 Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh.
Hindu families who crossed from Myanmar to Bangladesh to flee the violence said their family members and relatives were among those who were killed and buried in the shallow mass graves that were discovered this week. Hindu women who are now in refugee camps in Bangladesh told The Associated Press that the attackers killed their family members and relatives and later brought them to Bangladesh.
"Most of our neighbors are Muslims," said Bina Sharma, a Hindu villager who survived the violence. "Masked men threatened us and asked us to give them cash and gold. Later they killed 10 of my family members. They brought us to Bangladesh and confined us in a camp. They wanted to torture and kill us, but we told them we would convert to Islam and abide by the rules, but later with the police help we were taken to a refugee camp."
Meanwhile, a Japanese doctor who just returned from the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh said the situation there was "extraordinary."
Masamichi Yokoe, who was a part of the Japanese Red Cross Society advanced relief team, said the rapid speed of the refugees arriving at the camps is "abnormal" and making it difficult for aid workers to assess whether sufficient aid is coming in.
Yokoe said in addition to suffering from malnutrition and poor sanitation, many of the refugees appeared to be traumatized by the violence they encountered as they fled Myanmar.
Associated Press journalists Dar Yasin in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, and Kaori Hitomi in Tokyo contributed to this report.