WASHINGTON • A Reuters investigation into the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has prompted demands from the US State Department for a credible investigation into the bloodshed there and calls for the release of two journalists who were arrested while working on the report.
The special report published on Thursday lays out events leading up to the killing of 10 Rohingya men from the coastal Inn Din village in Rakhine state who were buried in a mass grave on Sept 2 after being hacked to death or shot by Buddhist neighbours and Myanmar troops.
"As with other, previous reports of mass graves, this report highlights the ongoing and urgent need for (the Myanmar) authorities to cooperate with an independent, credible investigation into allegations of atrocities in northern Rakhine," US State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said.
"Such an investigation would help provide a more comprehensive picture of what happened, clarify the identities of the victims, identify those responsible for human rights abuses and violations, and advance efforts for justice and accountability," she said.
The Reuters report drew on interviews with Buddhists who confessed to torching Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims in what they said was a frenzy of violence triggered when Rohingya insurgents attacked security posts last August.
The account marked the first time that soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel in arson and killings in Rakhine state that the United Nations has said may amount to genocide. Accounts of the violence had previously come only from the victims.
Three photographs, provided to Reuters by a Buddhist village elder, capture key moments in the massacre at Inn Din - from the Rohingya men's detention by soldiers on the evening of Sept 1 to their execution after 10am on Sept 2.
Two photos - one taken on the first day, the other on the day of the killings - show the 10 captives lined up in a row, kneeling. The final photograph shows the men's bloodied bodies piled in the shallow grave.
In the story, Myanmar said its "clearance operation" is a legitimate response to attacks by insurgents.
Asked about the evidence Reuters had uncovered about the massacre, Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said on Thursday, before publication of the report: "We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials."
If there was "strong and reliable primary evidence" of abuses, the government would investigate, he added.
The military has said that the 10 men belonged to a group of 200 "terrorists" that attacked security forces. But Rohingya witnesses told Reuters that soldiers plucked the 10 from among hundreds of men, women and children who had sought safety on a nearby beach.
There was no immediate comment from the government following the publication of the report.
Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled their villages and crossed the border of western Myanmar into Bangladesh since August.
Ms Yanghee Lee, the UN human rights investigator for Myanmar, who has been barred from visiting the Rohingya areas, echoed that call and added in a tweet: "Independent & credible investigation needed to get to the bottom of the Inn Din massacre."
Myanmar police arrested two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, on Dec 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents relating to Rakhine and have accused them of violating the Official Secrets Act. They are in prison while a court decides if they should be charged under the colonial-era Act.