Bangkok-based Fortify Rights said it spoke to witnesses and other
credible sources who confirmed the massacre, which would be the
deadliest incident in western Rakhine state since October 2012, when
ethnic Rakhine Buddhists fought minority Rohingya Muslims.
"The actual number of deaths may be higher but information is
circumscribed by government-imposed restrictions on access to the
area," the group said in a statement.
Rakhine state government spokesman Win Myaing told Reuters on
Thursday that he visited the area and found no evidence of mass
killings. Government-run media on Thursday also carried denials of a
Reports of the attack began circulating after a Jan 13 clash between
police and Rohingya villagers in Maungdaw township, a remote area
that is off limits to journalists, while access by humanitarian
groups is strictly controlled.
In the next few days, state and national government spokesmen said
police had been attacked. But they denied reprisal killings amid
calls by the United Nations and the U.S. and British embassies for
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Thursday said
Rakhine state officials found no evidence that women and children
were killed, and quoted Rakhine state chief minister Hla Maung Tin
accusing foreign media of reporting "false news".
The newspaper said the blood-stained uniform of a police sergeant
was recovered near the spot where about 100 Rohingya armed with
knives and sticks attacked a police patrol.
The differing accounts illustrate the difficulty in obtaining
first-hand information in parts of Myanmar that remain off limits
despite a wave of democratic reforms since military rule ended in
Rakhine state is home to about one million mostly stateless
Rohingya, who the United Nations says are subject to many forms of
"persecution, discrimination and exploitation."
These include forced labor, land confiscations, travel curbs and
limited access to jobs, education and healthcare.
A Rohingya source told Reuters that a group of eight Rohingya
clashed with police on the night of Jan 13. One police officer was
killed along with two or three Rohingya, while the rest fled to a
nearby village, he said.
Security forces then surrounded the village and went on a rampage
along with some Buddhist Rakhine civilians, killing as many as 70
Rohingya, according to the source, who spoke on condition of
anonymity for security reasons.
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The village was now deserted, he added.
"Many people were arrested and disappeared," he said. "Some
scattered in different places, in fear."
Sixteen suspects are being interrogated about the attack on police,
the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.
Fortify Rights said the government was carrying out "mass arrests"
"These arbitrary detentions broaden the scope of the human rights
violations in the area and should be immediately brought to an end,"
said Matthew Smith, the group's executive director.
If confirmed, the massacre would take to at least 277 the toll of
people killed in religious conflict across Myanmar since June 2012.
More than 140,000 people have been displaced.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar since the 2012
unrest, creating problems for neighboring countries which must deal
with a flood of illegal immigration.
Myanmar's government said on Jan 16 it would not discuss the status
of Rohingya at meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN), a regional bloc it will chair through 2014, even if
other countries raise the issue.
Fortify Rights said last week's violence began on Jan 9 when a group
of Rohingya passing through Maungdaw were confronted by Buddhist
Rakhine residents. On Jan 14, police and civilian Rakhines clashed
with Rohingyas who allegedly killed a police officer, the rights
Security forces and civilian Rakhines returned in the early morning
of Jan 14 and attacked villagers, mostly women and children who had
not yet fled, Fortify Rights said.
(Additional reporting by Minzayar Oo in Yangon;
editing by Jason Szep and Clarence Fernandez)
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