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Sunday, January 14, 2018

An Admission at Inn Din: Precedent for What?

January 14, 2018
(rough, incomplete)

As I work on an article for a wider audience, I had to pause to look into this story, and then put up this article. Then it's back to work...

Limited Hangout, or just Limited Crimes?
A government cover-up of massacres in Myanmar was the arrest of two Reuters journalists and others on December 12 (DW), reportedly as they were looking into killings at Inn Din, on the southern coast of Maundaw township.

An unusual government announcement of Dec. 18 noted unidentified “people being killed and buried” in a cemetery there (Reuters). A December 19 NYT report says the journalists had obtained photos from here. "Five ethnic Rakine locals" and not Rohingya, "were arrested for supplying the photos."  What seems to be a photo of one of the photos with labels added (but unreadable) was shown Dec. 20 on Twitter by a pro-Rohingya activist (see right).

At the risk of setting a precedent, the government now admits its forces engaged in unlawful killings in Inn Din. It was not on orders, the January 10 announcement from the army chief's office says, but hot-headed soldiers and Buddhist locals on their own initiative. Upset over attacks and a recent murder of one of their own, they decided to execute 10 ARSA fighters ("Bengali terrorists") on September 2, after capturing them during a foiled attack on August 31.
"Some villagers from Inn Din village and security forces confessed they killed 10 Bengali terrorists," a translation of the Facebook post said, according to Radio Free Asia. "The decision was made to kill them at a cemetery. 
The army will take charge of those who are responsible for the killings and who broke the rules of engagement," the statement continued. "This incident happened because ethnic Buddhist villagers were threatened and provoked by the terrorists.
(UPI, AFP via Frontier Myanmar, RFA - photo source)

This has been heralded as a first crack in the fa├žade of denial, an unprecedented admission some say should lead to the government starting acknowledging the rest of their alleged crimes. But of course "should" doesn't mean "will," and people are expecting this is just limited hangout before Naypyidyaw call the massacres case closed.

But it's also a crack in the impression of a cover-up. Why admit to anything if you're guilty and intent on keeping the lid on it all? 

The government vows to punish the criminals who broke the rules of engagement with those killings, and likely will. They also might now free the journalists jailed, it seems for trying to report on what they now admit (or maybe on a different version of it?). But don't wait up for any more substantial admissions. There may be another incident or even two of this sort they'll acknowledge, but so far only this one has found bodies, photos, Rakhines apparently trying to admit to it, and a story we now hear that has a certain plausibility. Other alleged massacres are of a vastly different character, with scores or hundreds of civilians killed, with utmost cruelty and for no reasons. So far they're also lacking in credible evidence. These - Tula Toli, Maung Nu, etc. - Naypyidaw will probably continue to deny. And perhaps they would be right to do so.

Story Problems Anyway
Strangely, even as the government side admits to the killings, the opposition's story appears to be poorly-managed fiction like their others. Maybe it's just reflexive, or maybe they're just trying to hide the fact that these were militants, but alleged witnesses keep changing the story for some reason. If you think the government is holding out on the truth, the following should convince you no one is telling it like it was.

An AFP report (via Frontier Myanmar) quickly followed the government's admission of ARSA fighters killed, passing on claims the victims were civilians - "fishermen, farmers, lumberjacks and clerics". As I commented on a Frontier Myanmar tweet about this: "To do: check what (activists) say now, what they said before, compare to what gov. says, consider logic and read between the lines, etc. Most will not do these things." I wasn't sure if even I would find the time, but here we are, and it's worth yet another post. 

In the above photo (if it's authentic - likely), the men are not dressed in the black outfits associated with ARSA. That could have a few causes. Maybe the black clothing isn't mandatory, especially for recently-pressed conscripts. Maybe they had time to remove these while ditching their weapons to play civilian. And maybe they're outright civilian.

Rohingya Blogger reported Dec. 19 that 10 men were killed, not fighters but regular working guys. These are listed, with incomplete names (but not Islamist fighter names like "Abu Hamza" - but Hafiz Ullah at least sounds fishy... must be the unarmed cleric?). They're mostly aged 20-35, with the oldest being 45, so all fighting age. This says they were arrested Aug. 31 while camping (or "mushroomed") on the beach after their homes had been burned down. Where their wives and kids had gone is unexplained. Here are the given IDs:

(1) MV Abdul Malek (s/o) U Mohammed, age-35
(2) Abul Hashim (s/o) U Kamarul, age-30
(3) Abdullah (s/o) U Abul Kalam, age-20
(4) Hafiz Ullah (s/o) U Nur Mohammed, age-28
(5) Rashid (s/o) U Abdul Shukur, age-20
(6) Abdul Mojid (s/o) U Mohammed, age-45
(7) Bangu (s/o) U Amaan Ullah, age-25
(8) Dilu (s/o) U Esop, age-30
(9) Bu Tar (s/o) U Abdul Rahaman, age-45 and
(10) Rafique (s/o) U Mohammed Ramul, age-25 

An Amnesty International (AI) report from last October was an earlier source, drawing on 7 alleged witnesses. As they heard, the killings were on an unclear date "several days" after the 25th - could be August 28 or 30 or September 2. How many wasn't clear - their witnesses "identified five family members who had been killed," and recognized an unclear number of others. Something like 10 total is likely, but the number isn't set. "In general, the Myanmar military appeared to target Rohingya men in particular," but maybe not exclusively. One man says he left his handicapped mother behind in their house, only to have it burned down with her inside (possible accident). But none of the men killed was a fighter.

Now we see the photo of all 10 rounded up and bound before execution. But in this early version, the victims seemed to die from random shooting. "As people ran away, the soldiers and BGP opened fire. Jamil, a 52-year-old farmer and small trader, said his cousin Zafor Hossain was hit by a bullet in his side as the two men attempted to run to a nearby hill." (Rohingya Blogger doesn't list anyone under the name Zafor or Hossain (maybe he had an alias or nickname they used?).

Another conflict: AI heard how Jamil escaped to a hill, then came back later. Finding the body in the same spot, he "buried his cousin in a graveyard on the edge of the village, before going back to the hill." The report mentions that "several" other witnesses, of seven total, described "burying their loved ones" - perhaps in that same cemetery - after finding them where they fell.

Most stories don't feature this, and most don't wind up with an identified burial, in a cemetery no less. This feels tailored to the facts but now, as we hear it, the men were buried together by their killers, not individually by their family.

Rohingya Blogger's post from December came just as the mass grave was found, and as the photos were known. By this the men were arrested in a group and then killed, rather than shot while running. Then their bodies were put into a "grave" or "graves," with no word on who did the burying - presumably those who arrested them. They agree with the government announcement that it was done in some kind of cemetery. Somehow, everyone agrees on that point...

Now that we hear it was the soldiers and Rakhine Buddhist killers who interred the bodies in their own Buddhist place for that, suddenly AFP  (via Frontier Myanmar) hears a third version; 
Inn Din villager Wal Marjan, 30, said they were attacked by Rakhine mobs flanked by soldiers, who later "selected 10 to 15 men to attend a meeting".
They were never seen again, said Marjan, who was later told by another man that her husband and the others were slaughtered.
"He said his body was thrown into a mass grave with the other men," Marjan told AFP at a refugee camp in southeast Bangladesh, adding her husband had no connections with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
So both the 'random shooting' and the 'arrested mushrooms' stories are out. Fighting age working men (and clerics) rather than elders or town leaders, were picked for this "meeting." That would be an unusual invitation list to talk things over, yet they naively went? Their bodies were then "thrown into a mass grave," implicitly by the killers, rather than into individual graves dug by family.

This is an interesting story evolution. It doesn't quite prove, but strongly suggests, falsification that adapts to shifting perceptions of the story. It doesn't seem centrally planned, but improvised by different people with their own immediate concerns and little consideration for what's already been said. They probably figure one is keeping tabs anyway, and that would be about right.

A best guess from what everyone says: these 10 ARSA fighters, likely all last-minute pressure recruits, were arrested on the 31st after engaging in provocative if not criminal violence. They were killed by their captors in an inexcusable act that could be somewhat understandable, given the full context. The Buddhists involved buried the dead and then confessed the crime, perhaps to reporters freely even before the authorities asked.

All the supposed witnesses from the Rohingya side have just been trying to tweak this story into another example of the regime targeting innocent Muslims, when they could have just let it go at the truth. Everyone knows they had some fighters out there, why not let a few be accepted as victims of an extrajudicial execution? Are they just allergic to the truth? So they insist the men were all civilians, and come up with a few clashing back-stories to support that. In the end their propaganda fails.

And keep in mind this is the one massacre the government admits to, with a realistic story that doesn't read like an overblown myth. When we're looking at those other stories like Tula Toli and especially Maung Nu, not surprisingly, we see the same kind of shifting details but even worse - the dates of massacres and names of villages change. In those cases, we can only hope the lack of visual evidence and of found graves means there really were no 1,900 civilians killed. And to the extent civilians were killed, we should wonder if the people with the sliding stories might have something to hide, as they apparently did at Inn Din. And of course at Kha Maung Seik, and a few other places, at least...

Two smaller decried massacres of Rohingya, at Chein Kar Li and Koe Tan Kauk are near Inn Din, but I haven't studied them much yet. Amnesty International (same report linked above) explains both as featuring people who escaped up a hill after seeing someone either shot dead or left behind in a house that was burned, came down to verify the person was dead in that same place, and then fled. That's similar to Inn Din accounts, but no one mentions burial.

In both Chein Kar Li and Koe Tan Kauk, and in Inn Din, witnesses reported to Amnesty how "the soldiers who attacked their village wore dark green military uniforms with a patch on one arm that looked like a flower and star, which would fit a commonly given description of the Western Command patch. They also identified the BGP by the distinct camouflage blue uniforms they wear." It's presented as if they could only know these uniforms if they'd seen them during a massacre. [40] Buddhists were recognized, from whatever Buddhists wear when slaughtering. Not monks in this case, but some were spotted at Tula Toli, perhaps in their saffron robes. (smh)

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