YANGON – Rohingya Muslims say Myanmar soldiers raped or sexually assaulted dozens of women in a remote village in the northwest of the country during the biggest upsurge in violence against the persecuted minority in four years.
Eight Rohingya women, all from U Shey Kya village in Rakhine State, described in detail how soldiers last week raided their homes, looted property and raped them at gun point.
Soldiers have poured into the Maungdaw area since Oct. 9, after an insurgent group of Rohingyas that the government believes has links to Islamists overseas launched coordinated attacks on several border guard posts.
A forty-year-old woman from U Shey Kya told Reuters that four soldiers raped her and assaulted her 15-year-old daughter, while stealing jewelry and cash from the family.
“They took me inside the house. They tore my clothes and they took my head scarf off,” the mother of seven told outside her home, a cramped bamboo hut.
“Two men held me, one holding each arm, and another one held me by my hair from the back and they raped me.”
Zaw Htay, the spokesman for Myanmar President Htin Kyaw, denied the allegations.
“There’s no logical way of committing rape in the middle of a big village of 800 homes, where insurgents are hiding,” Zaw Htay said.
U Shey Kya village’s official administrator, Armah Harkim, said he was working to verify the latest accounts, adding most residents believed them to be true.
Zaw Htay, the president’s spokesman, accused residents of fabricating the allegations as part of a disinformation campaign led by the insurgents, which he compared to the tactics of Islamist groups Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Colonel Sein Lwin, the police chief for Rakhine State, dismissed the claims as “propaganda for Muslim groups.”
Reuters reporters traveled to U Shey Kya village on Thursday – passing nearby villages where dozens of houses were recently burned down – and interviewed three women who said they were raped by soldiers.
Five other women from U Shey Kya have also detailed in a series of telephone interviews how Myanmar soldiers raped them. The accounts are backed up by at least three male residents of the village and a Rohingya community leader in Maungdaw who has gathered reports about the incident.
The residents said some 150 soldiers arrived near U Shey Kya on Oct. 19.
Most male residents left the village as they believed they would be suspected as insurgents. The women said they stayed behind in the belief the military would burn down empty homes.
Soldiers dismantled the fences around homes, residents said, removing possible hiding places as part of what authorities called a “clearance operation.”
A 30-year-old woman described being knocked off her feet by soldiers and repeatedly raped.
“They told me, ‘We will kill you. We will not allow you to live in this country,'” she said.
The women said soldiers took gold, money and other property, and spoiled rice stores with sand.
“We can’t move to another village to find medical care,” said a 32-year-old survivor. “I don’t have clothes now or food to eat. It was all destroyed. I’m feeling ashamed and scared.”