Myanmar: Military's mass grave admission exposes extrajudicial killings of Rohingya


Amnesty International has reiterated a call for an independent investigation into rights abuses in Myanmar's Rakhine state after the country's army admitted its soldiers were involved in the murder of 10 Rohingya.

Journalists covering Wednesday's proceedings wore black in protest against their arrest, carrying banners proclaiming "Journalism is not a crime".

Four members of the security forces also opened fire.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August, when the army launched a bloody crackdown in response to attacks on border posts by the armed group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

Both men face up to 14 years in prison if convicted under the Official Secrets Act, which dates back almost a century ago, when Myanmar was under British colonial rule.

It was a rare admission of wrongdoing by the Myanmar military during its operations in the western state of Rakhine.

The United States has previously said the sweeping military counteroffensive amounted to "ethnic cleansing".

Prosecutors brought the charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo during a brief court appearance Wednesday in Yangon.

"We view this as a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom", said Stephen J Adler, president and editor-in-chief of Reuters.

His colleague Wa Lone said his wife was pregnant adding: "I'm trying to be strong".

"It was found that there were no conditions to transfer the 10 Bengali terrorists to the police station and so it was made a decision to kill them", the military said, referring to the findings of the investigating team.

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The state department voiced its concern after two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar have been formally charged with "violating" the country's Official Secrets Act.

"Authorities are using antiquated laws to prosecute journalists and to create a climate of fear under the watch of Aung San Suu Kyi".

He said the government has begun rebuilding houses for some returnees, while others will be sent to "temporary camps" near their home villages.

"Partners have identified about 20 children separated from their families during the violence but estimate the total number to be at least 100 - most of whom are in parts of northern Rakhine state that they still can not access", Marixie Mercado, UNICEF spokesperson told journalists in Geneva recently during a briefing on her visit to Myanmar from December 6 past year through January 3.

"We hope it is followed up by more transparency and by holding those responsible accountable".

But if intimidation is the motive, it does not appear to be working.

"This is not an issue of free press, it is a legal issue", said government spokesperson U Zaw Htay in a conversation with Al Jazeera. "The problem with foreign media is that they are biased, they write about whatever they want and they do not speak to people on all sides", said the spritely 67-year-old.

"These brutal killings confirm the urgent need for a thorough and credible investigation into all violent incidents in northern Rakhine state to ensure the accountability of those found responsible for committing atrocities", said a statement issued by the European Union in Yangon.

Their dependency on information gathered from the swelling refugee population in Bangladesh has earned them pariah status in Myanmar, where the Rohingya are widely perceived as foreign terrorists.

"The military has rules of engagement", he said.