Myanmar Army Investigates New Mass Grave Discovered in Rakhine Amid Rohingya Crisis

The Myanmar army is investigating a mass grave discovered in Rakhine state, where rights groups and the United Nations say a military operation may amount to ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslims.

The ethnic minority group lives in segregated conditions in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma, mainly in Rakhine.

The army chief said in a statement on Facebook late on Monday (December 18) that a tip-off led officers to "unidentified dead bodies found at a cemetery in Inn Dinn village," AFP reported.

"Strong legal action will be taken if any member of security forces are involved," the statement added.

The army chief did not specify how many corpses were found in the mass grave or which community the victims were from.

Inn Dinn is in Rakhine's Maungdaw township, the epicenter of violence against the Rohingya, whom Myanmar regards as stateless people and migrants from Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

The Rohingya have become one of the world's most persecuted ethnic minorities.

At least 646,000 Rohingya people have fled to Bangladesh since violence erupted in Rakhine in August.

The recent exodus was sparked following attacks by Rohingya insurgents that killed at least 11 people in Rakhine. The military retaliated with what was described as "clearance operations" to identify and root out militants. However, the U.N. described it as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

Myanmar's Rakhine state
This photo taken on September 6, 2017 shows Rohingya Muslims in the village of Shwe Zarr looking at Myanmar police, who are providing security due to recent nearby unrest, near Maungdaw township in Rakhine State. The army said on December 18 it was investigating a mass grave in Rakhine. STR/AFP/Getty Images

Myanmar also accuse Rohingya insurgents of carrying out violent attacks against other communities in the state. The country claims insurgents were behind massacres of 45 Hindu villagers whose bodies were discovered in a mass grave in Rakhine in September.

The army has strongly denied accusations of excessive force against the Rohingya, but rights groups have said the community is subjected to human rights abuses including mass rapes and extrajudicial executions.

U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said violence against Rohingya may amount to genocide.

"Given the scale of the military operation, clearly these would have to be decisions taken at a high level," he told the BBC.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released satellite images on Monday purportedly showing the destruction of buildings in 40 villages that occurred in October and November, increasing the total of raided villages to 354.

The group said villages were targeted even after Myanmar and Bangladesh reached a deal in November to repatriate hundreds of thousands of displaced Rohingya.

The report came just days after Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) claimed that at least 6,700 Rohingya had been killed in Myanmar between 25 August and 24 September. The figure is in stark contrast with the official number of deaths given by Myanmar authorities, which said 400 people were killed, most of whom were alleged terrorists.

Rakhine State
Maungdaw township
Drag slider
to compare photos
comparison arrow
Satellite imagery of four villages in Maungdaw township, northern Rakhine State, on November 6 and December 2, 2017.

Myanmar's de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced scathing criticism for her prolonged silence and perceived inaction to resolve the ongoing crisis.

Suu Kyi's power over the military is limited, however she has been criticized for failing to address the situation and publicly condemn the massacres. The leader refused to use the word "Rohingya" in her public addresses, arguing that such word is too contentious for an already affected population.

Burmese authorities refuse to refer to them as "Rohingya", a term that would denote the minority's ethnicity.

Hussein said he talked to Suu Kyi in February and he "appealed to her to bring these military operations to an end.

"I appealed to her emotional standing... to do whatever she could to bring this to a close, and to my great regret it did not seem to happen," he said.