Damning evidence

Bound together, 10 Rohingya captives watched their Buddhist neighbours dig a grave.

Soon afterwards, on the morning of Sept 2, all 10 lay dead. At least two were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers. The rest were shot by soldiers, according to two of the gravediggers.

The Reuters investigation of the killings was what prompted Myanmar police to arrest two of the news agency's reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, on Dec 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents relating to Rakhine.

Then, on Jan 10, the military issued a statement that confirmed portions of what Reuters was preparing to report, acknowledging that 10 Rohingya men were killed in Inn Din.

Three photographs, given to Reuters by a Buddhist village elder, capture key moments in the atrocity: One shows one of the Rohingya men's detention by soldiers in the early evening of Sept 1, another shows the 10 captives kneeling in a row before their execution shortly after 10am on Sept 2.

The final photograph was of the men's bloodied bodies piled in the shallow grave.

Events began to unfold on Aug 25 when Rohingya rebels attacked police posts and an army base in northern Rakhine state in western Myanmar. Fearing for their safety, several hundred of Inn Din's Buddhist villagers took refuge in a monastery.

OFF RECORD

We couldn't bring phones. The police said they will shoot and kill us if they see any of us taking photos.

INN DIN VILLAGE CLINIC MEDICAL ASSISTANT AUNG MYAT TUN, who said he took part in several raids.

On Aug 27, about 80 troops from Myanmar's 33rd Light Infantry Division arrived in the village.

Here's a look at some of the alleged atrocities committed by the authorities uncovered by Reuters:

BURIED ALIVE

"One grave for 10 people," said Mr Soe Chay, 55, a retired soldier from Inn Din's Rakhine Buddhist community who said he helped dig the pit and saw the killing of 10 Rohingya - eight men and two high school students in their late teens.

The soldiers shot each man two or three times, he said.

"When they were being buried, some were still making noises. Others were already dead."

Rohingya witnesses said soldiers had plucked the 10 from among hundreds of men, women and children who had sought safety on a nearby beach. The slain men's families, now sheltering in Bangladesh refugee camps, identified the victims through photographs shown to them by Reuters.

Five of them, Mr Dil Mohammed, 35, Mr Nur Mohammed, 29, Mr Shoket Ullah, 35, Mr Habizu, 40, and Mr Shaker Ahmed, 45, were fishermen or fish sellers. The wealthiest of the group, Mr Abul Hashim, 25, ran a store selling nets and machine parts to fishermen and farmers. Mr Abdul Majid, a 45-year-old father of eight, ran a shop selling areca nut wrapped in betel leaves, commonly chewed like tobacco. Teens Abulu, 17, and Rashid Ahmed, 18, were high school students, while Mr Abdul Malik, 30, was an Islamic teacher.

A photograph, taken on the evening of Sept 1 when the men were detained, shows the 10 kneeling on a path beside the village clinic, most of them shirtless. They were stripped when first detained, a dozen Rohingya witnesses said.

That evening, Buddhist villagers said, the men were "treated" to a last meal of beef. They were then given fresh clothing.

On Sept 2, the men were taken to scrubland north of the village, six Buddhist villagers said. There, on their knees, they were photographed again and questioned by security personnel about the disappearance of a local Buddhist farmer named Maung Ni, according to a Rakhine elder who said he witnessed the interrogation.

According to Buddhist neighbours, Maung Ni went missing after leaving home early on Aug 25 to tend his cattle. Several Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya villagers told Reuters they believed he had been killed, but they knew of no evidence connecting any of the 10 men to his disappearance.

The army said in its Jan 10 statement that "Bengali terrorists" had killed Maung Ni, but did not identify the perpetrators.

The statement also said security forces had gone to a coastal area where they "were attacked by about 200 Bengalis with sticks and swords", adding that "as the security forces opened fire into the sky, the Bengalis dispersed and ran away. Ten of them were arrested."

Three Buddhist and more than a dozen Rohingya witnesses contradicted this version of events. None said the military had come under a large-scale attack in Inn Din.

On the hill on Sept 2, Maung Ni's sons were invited by the army officer in charge of the squad to strike the first blows.

The first son beheaded Mr Abdul Malik, said Mr Soe Chay. The second son hacked another of the men in the neck. "After the brothers sliced them both with swords, the squad fired with guns. Two to three shots to one person," he said.

A second gravedigger, who declined to be named, confirmed that soldiers had shot some of the men.

In its Jan 10 statement, the military said the two brothers and a third villager had "cut the Bengali terrorists" with swords and then, in the chaos, four members of the security forces had shot the captives.

Tun Aye, one of the sons of Maung Ni, has been detained on murder charges, his lawyer said on Jan 13. Reuters was unable to reach the other brother.

In October, Inn Din locals pointed the two Reuters reporters towards an area of brush behind the hill where they said the killings took place. The reporters discovered a newly cut trail leading to soft, recently disturbed earth littered with bones.

Some of the bones were entangled with scraps of clothing and string that appeared to match the cord that is seen binding the captives' wrists in the photographs. The immediate area was marked by the smell of death.

TORCHING HOMES

The military and paramilitary police organised Buddhist residents of Inn Din and at least two other villages to torch Rohingya homes, more than a dozen Buddhist villagers said.

Eleven Buddhist villagers said Buddhists committed acts of violence, including killings. The government and army have repeatedly blamed Rohingya insurgents for burning villages and homes.

An order to "clear" Inn Din's Rohingya hamlets was passed down the command chain from the military, said three paramilitary police officers speaking on condition of anonymity and a fourth police officer at an intelligence unit in the regional capital Sittwe. Security forces wore civilian clothes to avoid detection during raids, one of the paramilitary police officers said.

The most valuable goods, mostly motorcycles and cattle, were collected by members of the 8th Security Police Battalion and sold.

Operations in Inn Din were led by the army's 33rd Light Infantry Division, supported by the paramilitary 8th Security Police Battalion, according to four police officers, all of them members of the battalion.

One of the police officers said he received verbal orders from his commander to "go and clear" areas where Rohingya lived, which he took to mean to burn them. The purpose of the raids was to deter the Rohingya from returning.

Inn Din village clinic medical assistant Aung Myat Tun, 20, said he took part in several raids.

"Muslim houses were easy to burn because of the thatched roofs. You just light the edge of the roof," he said.

"The village elders put monks' robes on the end of sticks to make the torches and soaked them with kerosene. We couldn't bring phones. The police said they will shoot and kill us if they see any of us taking photos."

A Rakhine Buddhist youth said he thought he heard the sound of a child inside one Rohingya home that was burned. A second villager said he participated in burning a Rohingya home that was occupied.

GETTING NEIGHBOUR TO TURN ON NEIGHBOUR

When troops from Myanmar's 33rd Light Infantry Division arrived in Inn Din on Aug 27, the army officer in charge told villagers that they must cook for the soldiers and act as lookouts at night, said Mr Soe Chay.

The officer promised his troops would protect Buddhist villagers from their Rohingya neighbours. Five Buddhist villagers said the officer told them they could volunteer to join security operations. Young volunteers needed their parents' permission to join the troops.

The army found willing participants among Inn Din's Buddhist "security group", members of the organisation and two other villagers said. They were useful to the military because they knew the local geography, said Inn Din's Buddhist administrator Maung Thein Chay.

Most of the group's 80 to 100 men armed themselves with machetes and sticks. They also had a handful of guns, according to one member.

HACKING ROHINGYA WITH SWORD

Mr Soe Chay said he participated in one killing.

He said troops discovered three Rohingya men and a woman hiding beside a haystack in Inn Din on Aug 28. One of the men had a smartphone that could be used to take incriminating photographs.

The soldiers told Mr Soe Chay to "do whatever you want to them", he said. They pointed out the man with the phone and told him to stand up.

"I started hacking him with a sword, and a soldier shot him when he fell down."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 11, 2018, with the headline 'Damning evidence'. Print Edition | Subscribe