Myanmar army deserters confirm atrocities against Rohingya

FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2017, file photo, houses are on fire in Gawdu Zara village, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar. Two soldiers who defected from Myanmars army and confessed on video to taking part in massacres, rape, and other crimes against the Muslim Rohingya minority are believed to be in the custody of the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands and should be prosecuted to obtain their evidence, a human rights organization said Tuesday. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2017, file photo, houses are on fire in Gawdu Zara village, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar. Two soldiers who defected from Myanmars army and confessed on video to taking part in massacres, rape, and other crimes against the Muslim Rohingya minority are believed to be in the custody of the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands and should be prosecuted to obtain their evidence, a human rights organization said Tuesday. (AP Photo, File) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BANGKOK – Two soldiers who deserted from Myanmar’s army have testified on video that they were instructed by commanding officers to “shoot all that you see and that you hear” in villages where minority Rohingya Muslims lived, a human rights group said Tuesday.

The comments appear to be the first public confession by soldiers of involvement in army-directed massacres, rape and other crimes against Rohingya in the Buddhist-majority country, and the group Fortify Rights suggested they could provide important evidence for an ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape what Myanmar’s military called a clearance campaign following an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group in Rakhine state. Myanmar's government has denied accusations that security forces committed mass rapes and killings and burned thousands of homes.

Fortify Rights, which focuses on Myanmar, said the two army privates fled the country last month and are believed to be in the custody of the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, which is examining the violence against the Rohingya.

According to Fortify Rights, privates Myo Win Tun, 33, and Zaw Naing Tun, 30, who served in separate light infantry battalions, gave “the names and ranks of 19 direct perpetrators from the Myanmar army, including themselves, as well as six senior commanders ... they claim ordered or contributed to atrocity crimes against Rohingya."

The videos were filmed in July while the soldiers were in the custody of the Arakan Army, an ethnic guerrilla group in Rakhine engaged in an armed conflict with the government, and included subtitled translations into English, the human rights group said. They were posted on Fortify Rights' page on a video-sharing site, where the Associated Press viewed them.

The AP was not able to independently corroborate the soldiers’ accounts or ascertain whether they made their statements under duress.

However, U.N. agencies and human rights organizations have extensively documented atrocities carried out against the Rohingya by Myanmar security forces. The International Court of Justice agreed last year to consider a case alleging that Myanmar committed genocide against the group. The court’s proceedings are likely to continue for years.