Rohingya crisis: Burma's armed forces slaughtered men and children at Maung Nu massacre, say sur

Muslims who escaped mass killing by state troops recount horrifying experiences.

Refugees pass a Bangladeshi border guard at a camp in the no-man's land area between Burma and Bangladesh, near Gumdhum village in Ukhia (AFP/Getty)

For six hours he hid in an upstairs room, listening to the crackle of gunfire and the screams of people being slaughtered outside his Burma home.

With every footstep that drew near, every cry that pierced the air, 52-year-old Bodru Duza braced for the soldiers to find him, to kill him like all the others who had fled to his compound that morning seeking a safe place to shelter. They were being blindfolded and bound, marched away in small groups, then butchered and shot as they begged for their lives.

What had started out as a quiet Sunday in northwestern Burma had spiralled into an incomprehensible hell — one of the bloodiest massacres reported in the SoutheastAsian nation since government forces launched a vicious campaign to drive out the country’s Rohingya minority in late August.

By the time it was over, there was so much blood on the ground, it had pooled into long rivulets across the uneven earth, among bits of human flesh and the fragments of shattered skulls.

When Duza finally dared to emerge from his hiding place, he wondered how anyone could have survived.

The compound he grew up in was now consumed by an ethereal silence. His wife, daughter, and five young sons were nowhere to be seen. And as he crept toward a backdoor to escape, he stumbled upon the corpse of an unknown boy sprawled on the floor.

“Oh Allah!” he thought. “What have they done to us? What have they done to my family?”

Duza’s family belonged to the ethnic Rohingya Muslim community, which has long been persecuted and denied basic rights in predominantly Buddhist Burma. They lived in the village of Maung Nu, where at least 82 Rohingya are believed to have been murdered on 27 August.

The massacre was part of a streak of violence that started before dawn two days earlier, when Rohingya insurgents staged an unprecedented wave of 30 attacks on security posts across Rakhine state. At least 14 people were killed.

The assaults triggered one of the greatest catastrophes the Rohingya have ever known: an army counter-offensive that has left hundreds of villages burned and driven 650,000 refugees into Bangladesh. The aid group Doctors Without Borders estimates 6,700 Rohingya civilians were killed in the first month of reprisals alone, and human rights groups have documented three large-scale massacres.

The Associated Press has reconstructed the massacre at Maung Nu as told by 37 survivors now scattered across refugee camps in Bangladesh. Their testimony and exclusive video footage from the massacre site obtained by AP offer evidence, also documented by the United Nations and others, that Burma armed forces have systematically killed civilians.

Burma's military did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story, and the government — which prohibits journalists from independent travel to northern Rakhine State — did not reply to an AP request for a visit. The army has insisted in the past that not a single innocent has been slain.

For as long as anyone could remember, there was only one place in Maung Nu that was truly considered safe. It was a large two-storey residence shared by two of the village’s most prominent businessmen — Duza and his brother Zahid Hossain.

Built on a hillside more than half a century ago, the vast home was known for its three-foot-thick walls of hardened mud, which many believed to be bullet-proof and virtually impossible to burn. That mattered in Rakhine state, where the Rohingya population lived in fear of both the military and the area’s ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. Although the Rohingya have lived in Burma for decades, they are still seen as foreign invaders from Bangladesh who are intent on stealing land.

Despite the tensions, Hossain worked extensively with local army commanders, trading cows and rice and jointly operating a brick-making factory. Both brothers were charismatic, educated and popular. Duza, an affable man who was well-known throughout the area, had previously served as village administrator for 12 years. Many people assumed that neither he nor his compound would be harmed.

After insurgents launched their first attacks a year ago, the government had imposed strict new measures aimed at curbing militant activity. Islamic schools were closed, a curfew was put in place, and authorities ordered the removal of fences and even shrubbery so security forces could see inside private compounds.

But Maung Nu, a village of about 2,000 people also known as Monu Para, remained peaceful. Duza and his brother counted their blessings. They were among the village’s wealthiest men. They owned scores of cows and buffalo, and vast acres of rice.

Soon, it would all be gone.

A few hours after midnight on 25 August, fierce volleys of gunfire woke the residents of Maung Nu. Rohingya militants had launched a surprise assault on a Border Guard Police post in Hpaung Taw Pyin, less than a mile to the north.

The fighting lasted until dawn. According to the government, two officers and at least six of the assailants died.

That morning a commander from the army’s Light Infantry Battalion 564, based just south of Maung Nu, called the local district administrator, Mohamed Arof, furious.

“Why didn’t you tell us about these attacks?” the commander demanded.