COX'S BAZAR (Bangladesh) • Rika Dhar watched as her husband, two brothers and countless neighbours were brutally hacked to death with machetes by masked men who stormed their Hindu village in western Myanmar and frogmarched the terrified inhabitants to the hills.
"After the killing, they dug three large pits and threw them inside. Their hands were still tied behind them and their eyes blindfolded," said 25-year-old Ms Dhar in a Hindu camp in Bangladesh where she fled with her two children.
Eyewitnesses told AFP the bloodshed occurred outside their small Hindu village in Kha Maung Seik in northern Rakhine state, where the Myanmar authorities have exhumed 45 corpses from mass graves since Sunday.
The army says the discoveries are evidence of a massacre by Muslim Rohingya militants on Aug 25, the same day the insurgents launched coordinated raids on police posts that unleashed a surge of communal bloodshed.
The military's reprisal has left hundreds dead and sent nearly half a million Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh, where they have described a campaign of army-led violence that the United Nations says amounts to ethnic cleansing.
The army has rebuffed the accusation and defended its operation as a proportionate crackdown on Rohingya "extremist terrorists", while highlighting the plight of other groups, such as the Buddhists and Hindus, swept up in the unrest.
Yesterday, the army lifted its tight net over the conflict zone to fly reporters to the area in northern Rakhine where the mass graves of Hindus, including women and children, had been exhumed.
Displaced Hindus in Bangladesh and Myanmar, unable to contact their families, fear the worst as search efforts continued yesterday.
Witnesses from Kha Maung Seik, known locally as Fwaira Bazar, said black-clad attackers stormed their community on Aug 25, beating and binding the men before driving everyone into the forest. "After they took us to the hills, they butchered everyone. I saw it with my own eyes," said 15-year-old Promila Sheel in Cox's Bazar near the sprawling Rohingya camps.
She said more than 100 people were killed.
The latest convulsion of violence has deepened already bitter hatreds between various ethnic groups in Rakhine, where tensions have simmered for years.
The women who survived the massacre did not identify the masked attackers as Muslim militants, but said they were targeted because they were Hindus.
Rohingya sympathetic to the militant cause reject allegations that their fighters were responsible for massacring civilians.