Witnesses accuse Myanmar army of massacre

Jonathan Head and Burmese service ,bbc news

Getty Images This photo taken on May 21, 2024 shows a destroyed house and burned trees following fighting between the Myanmar military and the ethnic minority armed group Arakan Army (AA) in a village in Minbya township in the western state of Rakhine.fake images

Fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan army has raged in Rakhine state for months.

At least 50 people were killed by Myanmar soldiers in an attack on a village in Rakhine state last week, local residents and opposition forces say.

Warning: You may find some of the details in this article disturbing.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that the village was subjected to two and a half days of terror as soldiers blindfolded and beat them, poured burning gasoline on their skin and forced some of them to drink their urine.

They were seeking supporters of the Arakan Army (AA), which has become one of the most effective ethnic fighting forces in Myanmar.

Fifty-one people between the ages of 15 and 70 were “violently tortured and murdered,” the National Unity Government (NUG), which represents the ousted civilian government, said in a statement. The AA estimated the death toll at more than 70 people.

The ruling military council, or junta, has denied the allegations, which amount to one of the worst atrocities committed in Myanmar’s three-year civil war.

“They asked the men if AA was in this village,” one woman told the BBC.

“Whatever answer they gave, whether they said AA was there or not, or whether they didn’t know, the soldiers beat them.”

In just six months, the AA has devastated most of Rakhine state, forcing the military to continue withdrawing. Last year he ended a ceasefire with the military and joined ethnic insurgents in other parts of the country in a combined operation aimed at toppling the junta that seized power in February 2021.

“I saw with my own eyes how they took my husband away in a military vehicle. My son was separated from the two of us and I don’t know where he is. Now I don’t know if my son and my husband are alive or dead,” the woman told the BBC.

The names of witnesses are not used to protect them. They told the BBC that everyone in the village, which has just over 1,000 homes, was kept outdoors for two days, in the sun, with little to eat or drink, while dozens of men were tied up, with blindfolded and some were taken away. into trucks for further interrogation. Many have not yet returned.

“They were very thirsty, they were under the sun all day and begged for water. But the soldiers urinated in water bottles and gave them to the men,” the woman told the BBC.

He said he heard “a lot of gunshots” but didn’t see who was shot “because we had to keep our heads down.”

“I didn’t dare look. They called someone who was near me. Then I heard a gunshot. He never came back.”

She was crying the whole time because she was worried about her husband and son: “I didn’t know if they were alive or dead. I was praying for them, ‘Buddha, please save them.'”

Survivors say they could hear soldiers asking for shovels to bury the bodies. They say some were clearly drunk.

More than 100 soldiers are believed to have stormed the village of Byai Phyu, located on the outskirts of the state capital of Sittwe, on Wednesday.

Sittwe, a city with about 200,000 inhabitants, a large port and airport, is one of the few remaining strongholds of the Burmese army. But the insurgents are close by and enjoy the sympathy of much of Rakhine’s ethnic population.

Men who had tattoos showing support for AA were singled out for especially harsh treatment, locals said. A witness said the soldiers cut the tattooed skin, poured gasoline on it and set it on fire.

Another witness recalled that an army officer told villagers that he had come from fighting in northern Shan State, where the military suffered heavy losses late last year, to take revenge on them.

Losing Rakhine state on the border with Bangladesh would be one of the biggest humiliations ever suffered by the military, which has dominated Myanmar since its independence in 1948.

On Friday, those left standing in the market, mostly women, children and the elderly, were ordered to pick up a few things and leave. They said the soldiers had already looted anything valuable, such as gold, jewelry or solar panels, from their homes. Locals were initially taken to a stadium in Sittwe, but most moved away to seek refuge in Buddhist monasteries in the city.

The BBC understands that the army still controls Byai Phyu and that no one is allowed to return. There are reports that much of the town has been burned down.

The NUG has vowed to bring those responsible for war crimes in Byai Phyu to justice. AA also accused what it calls “the fascist military council” of “merciless cruelty” and gang-raping some of Byai Phyu’s women.

The junta has denied all allegations of torture, stating that they were only carrying out “peace and security” measures in the village after detecting sandbag bunkers there. He accuses the Arakan Army of launching drone attacks from that area of ​​Sittwe.

The isolation of Rakhine State and the intensity of the conflict make any independent investigation into what happened in Byai Phyu impossible in the foreseeable future.

But survivors’ accounts are an ominous warning of what could happen elsewhere in Myanmar as the army continues to lose ground to an increasingly confident and capable armed opposition movement.

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