YANGON - Security forces in western Myanmar massacred at least 40 Rohingya Muslims last week, including women and children, a human rights group said on Thursday, quoting witness accounts, despite official denials of the killings.
Bangkok-based Fortify Rights said it spoke to witnesses and other credible sources who confirmed the massacre, which would be the deadliest incident in western Rakhine state since October 2012, when ethnic Rakhine Buddhists fought minority Rohingya Muslims.
"The actual number of deaths may be higher but information is circumscribed by government-imposed restrictions on access to the area," the group said in a statement.
Rakhine state government spokesman Win Myaing told Reuters on Thursday that he visited the area and found no evidence of mass killings. Government-run media on Thursday also carried denials of a massacre.
Reports of the attack began circulating after a Jan 13 clash between police and Rohingya villagers in Maungdaw township, a remote area that is off limits to journalists, while access by humanitarian groups is strictly controlled.
In the next few days, state and national government spokesmen said police had been attacked. But they denied reprisal killings amid calls by the United Nations and the US and British embassies for an investigation.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Thursday said Rakhine state officials found no evidence that women and children were killed, and quoted Rakhine state chief minister Hla Maung Tin accusing foreign media of reporting "false news".
The newspaper said the blood-stained uniform of a police sergeant was recovered near the spot where about 100 Rohingya armed with knives and sticks attacked a police patrol.