By Shoon Naing
YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military began a rare court martial of soldiers on Tuesday following a probe into alleged atrocities during a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, a spokesman said, as the country prepares to face genocide charges at an international court in the Hague.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape a Myanmar military offensive launched in August 2017 that U.N. investigators described as having been executed with genocidal intent.
Soldiers, police, and Buddhist villagers are alleged to have razed hundreds of villages in the remote western Rakhine state, torturing Rohingya as they fled, carrying out mass-killings and gang-rapes.
Myanmar says the army was fighting a legitimate counter-insurgency campaign against militants who attacked security posts.
Spokesman Zaw Min Tun told Reuters via telephone that soldiers and officers from a regiment deployed to Gu Dar Pyin village, the site of an alleged massacre of Rohingya, were “weak in following the rules of engagement”.
In a statement published on its website, the army said the soldiers being court martialed were involved in “accidents” in Gu Dar Pyin.
The Associated Press reported the existence of at least five mass graves in the village, through interviews with survivors in refugee camps in Bangladesh and time-stamped cellphone videos. Myanmar denied the allegations made in the AP report.
The country is facing a wave of international pressure over its treatment of the Rohingya, with cases filed against it at courts around the world.
Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of a Nobel peace prize for her past defiance of a military junta that had led the country for decades, is set to travel to the Hague for hearings starting in December at the International Court of Justice.
Gambia, a tiny, mainly Muslim West African state, lodged a lawsuit accusing the country of genocide after winning the support of the 57-nation Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Myanmar says the international efforts violate its sovereignty and has vowed to carry out its own investigations into the allegations.
But few have been punished so far. Seven soldiers jailed for 10 years for killing 10 Rohingya men and boys in the village of Inn Din were granted early release last November, after serving less than a year in prison.
Two Reuters journalists who uncovered the murders spent more than 16 months behind bars on charges of obtaining state secrets, before being released in a presidential amnesty in May.
(Reporting by Poppy Elena McPherson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)