IN THE coastal village of Inn Din, located in northern Rakhine state in Burma, also known as Myanmar, two groups long coexisted, Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. The villagers fished in the Bay of Bengal and raised rice in paddies. But what happened at Inn Din on Sept. 2 marked a turning point in a war on the Rohingya by the Burmese security forces that should galvanize the world. Ten Rohingya — fishermen, shopkeepers, two teenage students and an Islamic teacher — were massacred and their bodies dumped into a shallow grave.
We know of this atrocity because intrepid journalists from Reuters investigated it and the news service has published their searing account. “Bound together,” the story says, “the 10 Rohingya Muslim captives watched their Buddhist neighbors dig a shallow grave. Soon afterwards, on the morning of Sept. 2, all 10 lay dead. At least two were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers. The rest were shot by Myanmar troops.” The report is based on eyewitness accounts, including from Buddhist villagers who admitted to burning Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims. It is bolstered by heart-rending photographs.
The massacre at Inn Din is only one chapter in a horrific campaign against the Rohingya minority by Burmese security forces. The violence was triggered by an attack Aug. 25 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a small Rohingya militant group, on about 30 Burmese security posts. In retaliation, the military plundered villages and burned them to the ground. About 650,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh, where they remain. Burma has blocked international observers and foreign journalists from seeing the devastated region.
The Reuters piece is especially important because of the harsh treatment of two journalists whose bylines are atop the report, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They were detained by authorities Dec. 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents, and in January charged with obtaining state secrets and violating the Official Secrets Act, a British colonial-era law with a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. In January, the military acknowledged that 10 men had been killed at Inn Din but said they were terrorists. The Reuters article shreds that shoddy coverup. The journalists have been rightly honored with PEN America’s PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award . If Burma has any respect left for democracy, it must release them immediately and drop the charges.
It is deeply unsettling that the atrocities and the assault on journalists have come as Burma’s leader, at least in name, is Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and long a champion of democracy. We have often sympathized with the restraints she faces in power, including the continued strength of the country’s generals. But the massacre at Inn Din cries out for a voice of moral clarity. Burma cannot hide any longer from a full international investigation into these crimes, and those who committed them must be held to account.
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