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Seven Myanmar soldiers sentenced to 10 years in jail over Rohingya massacre

The murders were part of a larger army crackdown on the Rohingya

Shoon Naing & Thu Thu Aung | Reuters  |  Yangon 

Myanmar soldiers
Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel in Inn Din village | Photo credit: Reuters

Seven soldiers have been sentenced to “10 years in prison with hard labour in a remote area” for participating in a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in a village in northwestern state last September, the army said on Tuesday.

The military said in a statement published on Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing’s office Facebook page that seven soldiers have had “action taken against them” for “contributing and participating in murder”.

The massacre was being investigated by two Reuters journalists - Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28 - who were subsequently arrested in December and are still behind bars facing charges of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act.

The authorities told Reuters in February the military opened an internal investigation independently and that it is unrelated to the Reuters reporters who are accused of obtaining unrelated secret government papers.

The from the northern village of Inn Din were buried in a mass grave in early September after being hacked to death or shot by Buddhist neighbours and soldiers. Reuters published its story on the murder in February.

The murders were part of a larger army crackdown on the Rohingya, beset by allegations of murder, rape, arson and looting, unleashed in response to on security forces in late August. The United Nations and the United States described it as ethnic cleansing - an accusation which denies.

“Four officers were denounced and permanently dismissed from the military and sentenced to 10 years with hard labour at a prison in a remote area. Three soldiers of other rank were demoted to the rank of ‘private’, permanently dismissed from the military and sentenced to 10 years with hard labour at a prison in a remote area,” read the military statement.

It added that legal proceedings against the police personnel and civilians “involved in the crime” are still underway.

On Jan. 10, the military said the 10 belonged to a group of 200 militants who had attacked security forces. Buddhist villagers attacked some of them with swords and soldiers shot the dead, the military had said.

The military’s version of events is contradicted by accounts given to Reuters by Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim witnesses published in the February story.

Buddhist villagers reported no attack by a large number of insurgents on security forces in Inn Din. And Rohingya witnesses told Reuters that soldiers plucked the 10 from among hundreds of men, women and children who had sought safety on a nearby beach.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled state and crossed into southern since August, creating one of the world’s largest refugee camps.

A court in Yangon has been holding preliminary hearings since January to decide whether the two Reuters reporters will be charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. On Wednesday, the judge will rule on a motion by defence lawyers for dismissal of the case.

First Published: Wed, April 11 2018. 08:02 IST