A US government investigation has found that Myanmar’s military waged a planned and coordinated campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities against the nation’s Rohingya minority.
The state department report, reviewed by Reuters news agency ahead of its expected release on Monday, could be used to justify further US sanctions against Myanmar authorities, said US officials.
But the report stopped short of describing the crackdown as genocide or crimes against humanity.
The findings were based on more than a 1,000 interviews of Rohingya men and women in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, where more than 700,000 Rohingya have fled after a military campaign last year in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“The survey reveals that the recent violence in northern Rakhine state was extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents,” said the 20-page report.
“The scope and scale of the military’s operations indicate they were well-planned and coordinated,” it added.
Survivors narrated in harrowing detail what they had witnessed, including soldiers killing infants and small children, the shooting of unarmed men and victims buried alive or thrown into mass graves.
They described widespread sexual assault and rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar’s military, often carried out in public.
One witness described how four Rohingya girls were abducted, tied up and raped for three days. They were left heavily bleeding and “half dead”, he said, according to the report.
The state department report coincided with the United States pledging $185m in aid for Rohingya refugees.
On Monday, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced the new funding for food, water, healthcare and other critical aid during a ministerial meeting on Myanmar crisis on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.
The US report comes nearly a month after a team of UN investigators issued its own report, accusing Myanmar’s military of acting with “genocidal intent” and calling for the country’s commander-in-chief and five generals to be tried by the International Criminal Court.
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s military chief on Monday warned against foreign interference as world leaders gather at the UN to find ways to hold the country’s powerful generals accountable for atrocities against the Rohingya.
In his first public comments since the UN fact-finding report, Min Aung Hlaing said Myanmar abided by UN pacts, but warned that “talks to meddle in internal affairs” may cause “misunderstanding”.
“As countries set different standards and norms, any country, organization and group has no right to interfere in and make decision(s) over sovereignty of a country,” Min Aung Hlaing said in comments reported in English on his website.
Min Aung Hlaing also shrugged off demands from UN investigators for the army to withdraw from politics in Myanmar, where it remains hugely influential despite a nominal transition to civilian rule in 2011.