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YANGON, Sept 25, (AFP): Myanmar troops on Monday searched for dozens of missing Hindu villagers feared dead after the discovery of a grave containing 28 corpses in Rakhine state, evidence of what the army says is a massacre by Rohingya Muslim militants.
Northern Rakhine has been ravaged by communal violence since Rohingya insurgents staged deadly raids on police posts on Aug 25, unleashing an army crackdown that has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.
The vast majority — more than 430,000 — are Rohingya Muslims who have fled across the border to Bangladesh from a military campaign which the UN says likely amounts to ethnic cleansing of the stateless minority.
But tens of thousands of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, and the region’s small population of Hindus, have also been internally displaced, saying they were attacked by Rohingya militants. On Sunday the army said it had discovered two mud pits filled with 28 Hindu corpses, including women and children, outside the village of Ye Baw Kyaw in northern Rakhine. “The security troops continue searching for remaining Hindu people around the places of the pits,” said a statement posted on army chief Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook page Monday, blaming Rohingya militants for the killings.
Displaced Hindus from the area told AFP last week that Rohingya fighters stormed into their communities on August 25, killing many and taking others into the forest. They showed AFP a list of 102 people from two villages — Ye Baw Kyaw, where the bodies were found, and Taung Ywar — feared dead by distraught relatives, who wept as they described the bloodshed.
Meanwhile, dissent surfaced again in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after Malaysia disavowed a statement issued by the bloc’s chairman, the Philippines, as misrepresenting “the reality” of an exodus of ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar.
The grouping of 10 nations in one of the world’s fastest growing regions has long struggled to reconcile conflicting interests in tackling issues such as China’s claims over the South China Sea and the crisis facing the Muslim Rohingya. “The Philippines, as chair, tolerates the public manifestation of dissenting voices,” the Philippine foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.
The move showed a “new level of maturity” in pushing ASEAN’s principle of consensus when dealing with issues affecting national interests, it added. Malaysia had made its position clear “in several ASEAN meetings” in New York, the ministry said, adding that it had to also take into account the views of other members, however.
On Sunday, Malaysia “disassociated itself” from the ASEAN chairman’s statement on the grounds that it misrepresented the “reality of the situation” and did not identify the Rohingya as one of the affected communities.
Myanmar objects to the term Rohingya, saying the Muslims of its western state of Rakhine state are not a distinct ethnic group, but illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Senior diplomats and foreign ministers of ASEAN nations discussed the contents of the statement on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York before it was published, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Malaysian government sources said.