Myanmar army massacred dozens of Rohingya, survivors say

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Posted: Dec 21, 2017 1:28 AM
Myanmar army massacred dozens of Rohingya, survivors say

UKHIA, Bangladesh (AP) — For six hours Bodru Duza hid in an upstairs room, listening to the screams of people being slaughtered outside his Myanmar home. The 52-year-old man braced for the soldiers to find and kill him, like all the others.

What had started out as a quiet Sunday in northwestern Myanmar had spiraled into an incomprehensible hell — one of the bloodiest massacres reported in the Southeast Asian nation since government forces launched a vicious campaign to drive out the country's Rohingya Muslim minority in late August.

When Duza finally dared to emerge from his hiding place, his wife, daughter, and five young sons were nowhere to be seen.

"Oh Allah!" he thought. "What have they done to us? What have they done to my family?"

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The Associated Press reported this story with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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The Rohingya Muslims have long been persecuted and denied basic rights in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, but the latest round of violence was in retaliation for a wave of 30 attacks by Rohingya insurgents in August on security posts. At least 14 people were killed.

The assaults triggered an army counter-offensive that has left hundreds of villages burned and driven 650,000 refugees into Bangladesh. The aid group Doctors Without Borders estimates 6,700 Rohingya civilians were killed in the first month of reprisals alone, and human rights groups have documented three large-scale massacres.

At least 82 Rohingya are believed to have been murdered in the village of Maung Nu on Aug. 27. The Associated Press has reconstructed the massacre, as told by 37 survivors now scattered across refugee camps in Bangladesh. Their testimony, combined with exclusive video footage from the massacre site obtained by AP, strengthens a growing body of evidence indicating that Myanmar armed forces have systematically killed civilians.

Myanmar's military did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story, and did not reply to an AP request for a visit. The army has insisted in the past that not a single innocent was slain.

A few hours after midnight on Aug. 25, gunfire woke the residents of Maung Nu. Rohingya militants had launched a surprise assault on a security post in a village less than one kilometer (one mile) to the north. According to the government, two officers and at least six assailants died.

Fearing reprisals, hundreds of residents walked to the homes of friends and relatives in Maung Nu.

But on Aug. 27, bursts of gunfire echoed across Maung Nu again. This time only the army was shooting.

Hordes of people were already seeking the closest refuge, the vast hillside compound of Duza and his brother, Zahid Hossain. At 11 a.m., dozens of soldiers poured into the compound, setting set off a panic. A few men in Duza's house locked the main wooden doors and climbed the stairs to a balcony, where most of the males already had gathered.

Before joining them, Duza pulled his wife aside.

"Please take care of our daughter and our sons," he said.

Outside, one soldier called on everyone to come out. When nobody did, several bursts of gunfire rang out.

Seconds later, soldiers broke down the doors and dragged shrieking mothers and children outside. The troops ordered them onto their knees, ripped off their headscarves and tore at their clothes. They snatched cell phones, gold earrings, necklaces and wads of cash.

About 20 or 25 of the women — mostly attractive and young — were taken away. They were never seen again.

Upstairs, soldiers bound the men's hands behind their backs and ordered them to lie face down in the dirt courtyard. Most were blindfolded with masking tape or veils taken from the women. A handful who tried to resist were thrown off the balcony head-first.

Duza's brother, Hossain, begged for the violence to stop.

"Why are you doing this?" he cried. "Why are you tying us up?"

There was no answer.

Around noon, a senior officer told a commander on his phone that they had rounded up 87 men.

"What should we do with them?"

The call ended. The officer barked an order.

"Let us begin."

Duza watched through a slit in a closed window as a soldier plunged a long knife into his brother's neck. When two of Hossain's sons tried to run, soldiers opened fire.

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Duza stepped back in shock. He scrambled upstairs and crawled into the only place he could think of: a foot-high space under a large wooden container normally used to store rice.

Outside, several soldiers hammered four-inch nails into the temples of three men on the ground with the butts of their rifles. Others were decapitated.

As the afternoon wore on, the carnage became methodical.

Men and teenage boys were taken away in small groups and killed by firing squads. In some cases, a soldier blew a whistle beforehand, signaling for them to begin.

When the guns finally fell silent, Duza crept slowly downstairs, and slipped away.

For the next two weeks, he traveled to Bangladesh. His family, he thought, was surely dead.

There is no way to independently confirm the death toll in Maung Nu. But one handwritten tally seen by The AP details the names, ages and professions of 82 people, whose family members say were killed. The youngest is seven years old; the oldest, 95.

According to Mohamed Arof, the Maung Nu village administrator, at least 200 more remain missing and are feared dead.

"You have to understand ... they hate us," Arof said. "This didn't only happen in our village, it happened everywhere."

In the end, Duza was one of the luckiest survivors.

After weeks on his own, he found a newly-arrived refugee with a Myanmar phone and asked to use it. He dialed his wife's number. A young girl answered. It was his 14-year-old daughter, Taslima.

As tears welled in his eyes, Duza asked about the rest of his family. "Are they with you? Are they alive?"

"Yes papa! Yes!" Taslima replied. "We're here! Everybody is fine."

Weeks later, in a refugee camp, Duza would break down as he hugged his wife and squeezed the children he never thought he'd see again.

"It felt like living in another world," Duza said. "It felt like a new life."