Myanmar army admits Rohingya killings

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Myanmar's admission that soldiers were involved in the murder of 10 Muslims in September was an important step and the United States hoped it would be followed by more transparency and accountability, the USA ambassador said on Thursday.

Refugees who crossed the border reported mass killings, gang rapes and arson, prompting the United Nations and rights groups to accuse Myanmar's army of possible crimes against humanity.

The statement, published Wednesday on the Facebook page of Myanmar's Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, explained that security forces had been conducting a "clearance operation" when "200 Bengali terrorists attacked using sticks and swords".

"Partners have identified about 20 children separated from their families during the violence but estimate the total number to be at least 100, most of whom are in parts of northern Rakhine State that they still can not access", she said, in a report from the UN News Centre.

Two Reuters journalists who were also investigating the incident were arrested last month for allegedly acquiring "important secret papers" from two police officers.

Rohingya Muslims who fled a village where Myanmar has admitted its forces helped massacre 10 people said Thursday the victims were all civilians, not fighters as asserted by the army.

Myanmar's armed forces have for decades been accused by human rights groups and Western governments of abuses in the country's myriad ethnic conflicts, but it has been rare for soldiers to be held accountable.

The military announced on December 18 that a mass grave containing ten bodies had been found at the coastal village of Inn Din, about 50 kilometres north of the state capital Sittwe. In a statement, the military said that due to the fighting they could not transport the men so the detainees were executed by soldiers and local villagers instead of being handed over to police.

"It was found that there were no conditions to transfer the 10 Bengali terrorists to the police station and so it was made a decision to kill them", the military said, referring to the findings of the investigating team.

In a December letter to the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments, Human Rights Watch warned that they risk violating worldwide law by pressuring refugees to return to Myanmar where they are still at risk of attack by security forces.

The Defense Ministry said it will take action against the perpetrators involved in those killings and those in charge of security forces in the Rakhine State.

Myanmar's civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has no control over the military, but has faced fierce worldwide criticism for failing to do more to protect the Rohingya.

Both the United Nations and USA have stated that he military's action has amounted to ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in majority Buddhist Myanmar.

"This grisly admission is a sharp departure from the army's policy of blanket denial of any wrongdoing", James Gomez, Amnesty International's Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said.

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