Group: Myanmar mobs killed at least 40 Muslims


YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Buddhist mobs killed at least 40 Muslims when they stormed a village in western Myanmar last week, hunting down residents with knives, a human rights group said, citing witness testimony and a wide network of local sources.

The government has vehemently denied any deaths, except that of a police sergeant attacked by Rohingya Muslim villagers, but evidence of a massacre is mounting.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, called on the government Thursday to give humanitarian aid workers, independent observers and journalists unfettered access to Du Char Yar Tan village in Northern Rakhine state, which has been emptied and sealed off since the Jan. 14 incident. He said as of Wednesday, there were still some bodies in abandoned homes.

He also called for an end to mass arrests of Rohingya men and boys, some as young as 10.

"These arbitrary detentions broaden the scope of the human rights violations in the area and should be immediately brought to an end," Smith said. "There needs to be accountability for this wave of horrific violence ... but mass arrests of Muslim men and boys are not the way."

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million people, has been grappling with sectarian violence for nearly two years. The reported deaths in Du Char Yar Tan would bring to more than 280 the number of people killed, most of them members of the country's long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim community. Another 250,000 people have fled their homes.

The state — home to 80 percent of the country's 1 million Rohingya — runs along the Bay of Bengal and is cut off from the rest of the country by a mountain range. It is off-limits to foreign journalists and access for humanitarian aid workers is severely restricted, adding to the difficulties of confirming details about the violence.

The numbers reported by Fortify Rights, however, appear to be gaining support.

Estimates by the United Nations, which sent investigators to the region last week, also reach in the dozens, according to embassy officials and aid workers, following briefings on the violence. They asked that they not be named, saying the U.N. was expected to issue its own statement on the incident.

Security forces surrounded Du Char Yar Tan on Jan. 14 after Rohingya Muslim residents allegedly abducted and killed a police sergeant. Fearing reprisals, most of the men fled, but rights groups and residents of neighboring villages said revenge-seeking Buddhist mobs entered with knives and guns and started attacking women and children.

In the hours that followed, riot police started arresting all male Rohingya, including children over the age of 10, in surrounding areas, sending hundreds into hiding, Smith said.

The Myanmar government has repeatedly denied that any violence or killing took place in the area, apart from the death of the police sergeant and an alleged mob attack by Rohingya Muslims on police.

A statement published Thursday on the Ministry of Information website said Chief Minister of Rakhine state Hla Maung Tin visited the area on Wednesday and told people about the "false news published and aired by foreign media that children and women were killed in the violence."

Officials with the U.N. accompanied the government delegation but did not offer immediate comment about the tour.

The U.N. describes the Rohingya as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Some of the Rohingya are descended from families that have been there for generations. Others arrived more recently from neighboring Bangladesh. All have been denied citizenship, rendering them stateless.

For decades, they have been unable to travel freely, practice their religion, or work as teachers or doctors. They need special approval to marry and are the only people in the country barred from having more than two children.