Rohingya Survivors: Myanmar's Army Slaughtered Men, Children

In this Nov. 24, 2017, photo, Mohammadul Hassan is photographed in his family's tent in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. Hassan still bears the scars on his chest and back from being shot by Myanmar soldiers who attempted to kill him.

For six hours he hid in an upstairs room, listening to the crackle of gunfire and the screams of people being slaughtered outside his Myanmar 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 Myanmar had spiraled into an incomprehensible hell — one of the bloodiest massacres reported in the Southeast Asian 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?"

In this Nov. 25, 2017, photo, Bodru Duza, 52, third from right, kisses his sons as he sits for a portrait with members of his family in a tent in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.

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

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 Myanmar armed forces have systematically killed civilians.

Myanmar'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-story 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 Myanmar 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 Aug. 25, 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 kilometer (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.

"I didn't know anything about it," replied Arof, a Rohingya. "I only heard the shooting, like you."

The same day, police snatched Arof's 15-year-old son from a rice paddy and took him to their camp, where he was hanged with a rope along with three other teenagers, according to Arof and several witnesses. It's unclear why the teens were killed, but word of their deaths spread quickly.

Fearing more reprisals from security forces, most of Hpaung Taw Pyin's residents fled. Hundreds of them walked to the homes of friends and relatives in Maung Nu, in the hope they would be safe there.

And for a day, they were.

On Aug. 27, bursts of gunfire echoed across Maung Nu again. This time only the army was shooting.

Several military trucks parked on the village's main road around 9 a.m. and began disgorging troops who fanned out on foot, firing into the air. Peering out a window of her home, 35-year-old Jamila Begum spotted several armed soldiers crossing her yard carrying coils of nylon rope.

Hundreds of people were already on the move, seeking the closest refuge — the hillside compound of Duza and Hossain, which included half a dozen other homes belonging to their relatives and a large rectangular pond. Jamila's family joined them.

Other residents were being rounded up by force and ordered to head to the compound. Some cowered inside their homes, wondering what to do. One of them, 18-year-old Mohammadul Hassan, put a woman's veil over his face when troops burst through the front door of his home, guns drawn.

Hassan immediately recognized one of the soldiers — a skinny army staff sergeant named Baju who was well-known in the village. A member of the 564th Battalion, Baju had lived in the area for 15 years and spoke the Rohingya dialect, according to numerous villagers. Duza said Baju was also a frequent visitor to his home.

When the soldiers discovered Hassan hiding among several female relatives, they became enraged. He was dragged outside along with two of his brothers, shoved to the ground and kicked until blood poured from his left eye.

As troops ripped clothes off the women and seized their valuables, the three brothers were stripped and tied up. The soldiers marched them to Duza's compound naked, at gunpoint, the sunbaked dirt road burning their bare feet.