Rohingya militants on Wednesday denied the Myanmar army’s allegations that they had massacred scores of Hindu villagers, whose bodies soldiers displayed to the press after exhuming them from mass graves in northern Rakhine state.
Major clashes between the army and the Muslim insurgents erupted last month, triggering a dire refugee crisis with nearly half a million Rohingya fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.
An information war has followed, as Myanmar’s government pushes back against UN accusations that the army is waging a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the stateless Rohingya, who have faced persecution in the mainly Buddhist country for decades.
On Wednesday the army flew journalists to an area where the mass graves of 45 Hindu villagers, including many women and children, were discovered earlier this week.
The military has accused Rohingya militants of carrying on the massacre on August 25, the same day the group staged deadly raids on police posts that sparked the military backlash.
In its first official statement on the allegations, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) “categorically” denied that its members “perpetrated murder, sexual violence, or forcible recruitment” in the area on 25 August.
They called on the army to stop “victim-blaming,” according to the statement, which was posted on the ARSA’s Twitter account.
It used an apparent local name — “Fakirabazar” — for the Kha Maung Seik village tract where the mass graves were found, in the statement posted on Twitter Wednesday.
The decomposing skeletal bodies remained laid out in rows on a grassy field outside the village of Ye Baw Kyaw as distraught relatives wailed, according to AFP journalists at the scene.
Security officers are still searching for 48 missing Hindus who relatives fear are dead.
The army has tried to control the narrative over the crisis, restricting press access to the conflict zone while it posts regular updates that blame Rohingya militants for the bloodshed.
Government and military reports have also sought to highlight the suffering of other ethnic groups, such as Rakhine Buddhists and Hindus, swept up in the communal unrest.
– “We begged for our lives” –
Hindus who fled the area have told AFP that masked men stormed into their community that day and hacked victims to death with machetes before dumping them into freshly-dug pits.
Ni Maul, a Hindu leader who has helped authorities with the search, told media on the army-led press trip that they found the burial…