Amnesty International has reiterated a call for an independent investigation into rights abuses in Myanmar‘s Rakhine state after the country’s army admitted its soldiers were involved in the murder of 10 Rohingya.
The remains of the victims were found in December in a mass grave outside Inn Din, a village in the Maungdaw township.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Min Aung Hlaing, the military’s commander in chief, said soldiers and villagers had confessed to killing 10 suspected Rohingya fighters on September 2.
James Gomez, Amnesty’s regional director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, called the admission a positive development, but said it was “only the tip of the iceberg”.
It “warrants serious independent investigation into what other atrocities were committed amid the ethnic cleansing campaign that has forced out more than 655,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State since last August,” he said on Thursday.
The army’s unprecedented acknowledgement came after months of denial of any wrongdoing towards the persecuted Rohingya minority.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August, when the army launched a bloody crackdown in response to attacks on border posts by the armed group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
Refugees who crossed the border reported mass killings, gang rapes and arson, prompting the UN and rights groups to accuse Myanmar’s army of possible crimes against humanity.
Inn Din, the site of the mass grave, was one of the hundreds of villages that was engulfed by violence during the August crackdown.
The military, in its account of the killings, said “200 Bengali terrorists” armed with sticks and swords attacked soldiers in the area on September 1. Myanmar officials refer to the Rohingya as Bengalis, a pejorative term used to imply they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Ten of the assailants were captured, but “it was found that there were no conditions to transfer the 10 Bengali terrorists to the police station and so it was decided to kill them”, the military said, and vowed to take action against those involved in the killing.
Amnesty’s Gomez condemned the military account as an “appalling” attempt to “justify extrajudicial executions”.
“Such behaviour shows a contempt for human life which is simply beyond comprehension.”
Ro Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist, said he did not believe the army’s account of the incident.
“The army is saying the ten are connected to the insurgency group. But this is false,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I have spoken to many eye witnesses. The villagers were arrested from Inn Din beach on August 31, 2017. They were on the run because the Inn Dinn village was under siege by the Myanmar government,” he said.
— Ro Nay San Lwin (@nslwin) January 10, 2018
Lwin attributed the military’s rare admission to the arrest of two Reuters journalists in December.
The pair – Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – were taken into custody after being invited to dine with police officers on the outskirts of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon.
“There are many mass graves. But they [army] have released this one because the Reuters journalists got the evidence,” Lwin told Al Jazeera.