Myanmar military’s campaign against the Rohingya Muslims in a Buddhist-majority country began years earlier, although their mass exodus got international focus only in August 2017, a US network says.
FRONTLINE, which produces in-depth investigative reports, on Tuesday reported that a small network of citizen activists had been risking their lives to secretly film impacts of the military campaign.
Their harrowing footage, and the first-ever on-camera interview with a member of the network, are featured in the new FRONTLINE documentary, “Myanmars Killing Fields”.
It is the US television’s most comprehensive investigation of the Myanmar military’s violent crackdown on the Rohingyas - an effort that the United Nations has described as having the “hallmarks of genocide.”
The Myanmar military denies abuses and says it has been fighting a militant Islamist Rohingya group called ARSA which was blamed for a reported attack and killing of security forces at police and army bases.
But, with secret footage filmed by the network, and firsthand accounts from victims and their families, the documentary depicts “an orchestrated campaign to target civilians, state-sanctioned violence and mass murder”.
A man with pseudonym Sabo was filming in a nearby village as survivors from Chut Pyin village streamed in - men, women, and children, many of whom had been shot in the back as they fled.
“They were all in a terrible state,” Sabo was quoted to have said. “They were traumatised after seeing brothers and sisters killed … Only God knows how much they suffered.”
FRONTLINE reportedly tracked down survivors seen in Sabo’s footage, who independently recounted how the military attacked civilians and raped women and children.
“I was shot and fell in the rice field. I could not get up, I was in so much pain. Then four soldiers raped me,” 16-year-old Jamila Khatun, now living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, tells FRONTLINE.
Another survivor, Nur Begum, describes being rounded up and taken into the bushes, where she says a soldier shot dead a woman who tried to fight back.
“A soldier cut off her breast,” Begum says, sobbing. “He held it up like this and showed us and it was shaking. He said if we screamed, they would do the same to us.”
Then, she says, several soldiers raped her, according to the documentary.
Village leader and medic Rashan Ali was quoted to have said he did what he could to treat the victims: “I treated 92 people there … They were lacerated, they cut their breasts, then they shot them. I treated them with whatever I had.”
Many of the rape victims, Ali reportedly said, were children. “Some of them could not bear it and they died.”