01/02/2018 19:30 GMT

Mass Graves Suggest Systematic Killing Of Rohingya In Myanmar

The country’s government denies it’s engaged in ethnic cleansing.

A new report discloses at least five previously unreported mass graves in Myanmar, adding further evidence of the systematic killing of Rohingya Muslim civilians by the country’s military.

More than two dozen Rohingya refugees living in temporary shelters in neighboring Bangladesh confirmed the existence of the mass graves in interviews with The Associated Press, and suggested more are yet to be discovered.

The Myanmar government has acknowledged only one mass grave, which it said contains the remains of 10 “terrorists” in the village of Inn Din. But survivors in refugee camps shared accounts with AP of family homes torched, towns ambushed with gunfire, and small children and elderly thrown into flames.

Refugees told AP of an Aug. 27 attack in which more than 200 soldiers stormed the village of Gu Dar Pyin and brought with them shovels to dig mass graves and acid to burn away the faces and hands of victims to prevent identification of the bodies.

“It was a mixed-up jumble of corpses piled on top of each other,” Noor Kadir, a survivor of the attack, told AP. “I felt such sorrow for them.”

Thousands of Rohingyas have fled Myanmar since the military launched a campaign of violence against them in late 2016.  

Those who have been displaced fear renewed violence if they go back to their home country, though Myanmar is working on a repatriation agreement with Bangladesh to return the Rohingya refugees. Myanmar’s government maintains that members of the Muslim group are foreigners, and does not allow them citizenship.

Myanmar’s civil leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and former political prisoner, has denied damning reports of state-sanctioned abuse against the minority Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country. But human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the United Nations, report abuses that some say look increasingly like genocide.

The assaults carried out by state officials and Buddhist extremists have included rape, arson, shootings, beatings and torture, and amount to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, according to international rights organizations.

“What the Myanmar government claims to be the conduct of military or security operations is actually an established pattern of domination, aggression and violations against ethnic groups,” Yanghee Lee, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a report dated Feb. 1.

Last week, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a veteran U.S. diplomat, abruptly resigned from an international panel established to advise Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis. In a letter announcing his decision, Richardson decried the country’s lack of “moral leadership” and said he could no longer “in good conscience serve in this role.”