As Pakistan-India tensions flare, a child mistakes a bomb for a toy

A relative displays the picture of 4-year-old Mohammad Ayan Ali, who, according to his family, was killed after he found a device that looked like a toy and exploded in his hands at home in the village of Jabri, in Neelum Valley, in Pakistan-administrated Kashmir. Pakistan's military says the device was an unexploded cluster bomb.. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir

By Saad Sayeed

JABRI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Deep in the mountains of the Neelum Valley, where a river separates India and Pakistani Kashmir, is the small village of Jabri, usually far enough away to avoid being hit by exchanges of fire between the countries’ armies.

That changed late last month when Indian artillery shells hit the village and an unexploded device found its way into the hands of four-year-old Ayan Ali.

“He found a bomb that looked like a toy and he brought it here,” said Ali’s uncle, Abdul Qayyum, pointing to their home.

Ali showed the “toy” to his siblings as the family sat down to breakfast. It exploded, killing Ali and wounding eight of his siblings, his mother, and a young cousin.

“They tried to snatch it from him and then it exploded. He died on the spot,” Qayyum said, adding that two of the children are in hospital in critical condition.

Pakistan’s military said the device was a cluster bomb, a weapon that releases many smaller bomblets that can kill or wound people over a wider area. They are prohibited under the Geneva Convention governing international warfare.

The Indian government and army denied the allegation, and two army officials told Reuters that its shelling across the border was proportionate and in response to Pakistani fire.

On a visit to the Jabri area on Friday, a Reuters journalist was unable to independently verify the type of device that killed Ali, though there were signs of damage in the home.

A small crater in the concrete floor marked the place where Ali was standing when the device exploded.

“The little kids were playing and then there was a loud sound. There was smoke everywhere, I couldn’t see anything,” said Sadaf Siddiq, Ali’s older sister.

A shell hit another nearby home, opening a large hole in the roof but nobody inside was injured, said its 37-year-old owner Muhammad Hanif.

The Pakistan military said they had cleared a number of unexploded devices from the area. One military official showed a toy-sized device that he said was part of a cluster bomb, which could not be independently verified by Reuters.

Cross border exchanges of fire have intensified in recent years and India and Pakistan accuse each other of regularly violating a ceasefire agreement along the 740-km (460-mile) Line of Control (LoC), which serves as a de-facto border in the disputed Kashmir region.

Tensions increased this week after India set a new policy to revoke Jammu and Kashmir state’s rights to set its own laws, arrested hundreds of political leaders and activists, and severed nearly all communications from Indian Kashmir.

Both countries claim Kashmir and have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region, which they have disputed since partition and independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

(Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Martin Howell and Darren Schuettler)

European Court says Russia not facing up to domestic abuse problem

FILE PHOTO: The building of the European Court of Human Rights is seen in Strasbourg, France March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

By Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia failed to protect a woman from repeated acts of violence by her former partner, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday, saying her case showed that Moscow was not facing up to its domestic abuse problem.

Valeriya Volodina, who now uses a different name for security reasons, was assaulted, kidnapped and stalked by her former partner after she left him in 2015 and moved out of their shared home in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk, the court said.

The police never opened a criminal investigation into violence and threats that she reported to them from January 2016 to March 2018, it said in its statement.

In one such episode, she was forced to have an abortion after he punched her in the face and stomach when she was pregnant. In other incidents, the partner, whom she met in 2014, cut her car’s brake hose and stole her identity papers, it said.

After she moved to Moscow, Volodina discovered a GPS tracker planted in her bag and the former partner, identified only as S., subsequently started stalking her outside her home and attempted to drag her from a taxi.

The court in Strasbourg said Russia’s police had interviewed the partner and carried out pre-investigation inquiries but not opened formal proceedings against him as it deemed that “no publicly prosecutable offense had been committed”.

Russian legislation does not define or mention domestic violence as a separate offense or aggravating element in other offenses and there is no mechanism for imposing restraining or protection orders, the court said.

“Those failings clearly demonstrated that the authorities were reluctant to acknowledge the gravity of the problem of domestic violence in Russia and its discriminatory effect on women,” the court said in a statement.

Each year, about 14,000 women die in Russia at the hands of husbands or other relatives, according to a 2010 United Nations report.

Police finally opened a criminal investigation only in March 2018 when the partner circulated photographs of her on social networks without her consent, the court said.

The court said Russia’s response had been “manifestly inadequate” and ruled unanimously there had been two violations of the European Convention on human rights, one on the prohibition of discrimination and the other on the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment.

Russia’s Justice Ministry said it had three months to decide whether to appeal against the ruling, but that it would study the findings of the court, Interfax news agency reported.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

North Korean leader’s slain half-brother was a CIA informant: Wall Street Journal

FILE PHOTO - Kim Jong Nam arrives at Beijing airport in Beijing, China, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 11, 2007. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who was killed in Malaysia in 2017, had been an informant for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The Journal cited an unnamed “person knowledgeable about the matter” for the report, and said many details of Kim Jong Nam’s relationship with the CIA remained unclear.

Reuters could not independently confirm the story. The CIA declined to comment.

The Journal quoted the person as saying “There was a nexus” between the CIA and Kim Jong Nam.

“Several former U.S. officials said the half brother, who had lived outside of North Korea for many years and had no known power base in Pyongyang, was unlikely to be able to provide details of the secretive country’s inner workings,” the Journal said.

The former officials also said Kim Jong Nam had been almost certainly in contact with security services of other countries, particularly China’s, the Journal said.

Kim Jong Nam’s role as a CIA informant is mentioned in a new book about Kim Jong Un, “The Great Successor,” by Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield that is due to be published on Tuesday. Fifield says Kim Jong Nam usually met his handlers in Singapore and Malaysia, citing a source with knowledge of the intelligence.

The book says that security camera footage from Kim Jong Nam’s last trip to Malaysia showed him in a hotel elevator with an Asian-looking man who was reported to be a U.S. intelligence agent. It said his backpack contained $120,000 in cash, which could have been payment for intelligence-related activities, or earnings from his casino businesses.

South Korean and U.S. officials have said the North Korean authorities had ordered the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, who had been critical of his family’s dynastic rule. Pyongyang has denied the allegation.

Two women were charged with poisoning Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. Malaysia released Doan Thi Huong, who is Vietnamese, in May, and Indonesian Siti Aisyah in March.

According to the Journal, the person said Kim Jong Nam had traveled to Malaysia in February 2017 to meet his CIA contact, although that may not have been the sole purpose of the trip.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have met twice, in Hanoi in February and Singapore last June, seeming to build personal goodwill but failing to agree on a deal to lift U.S. sanctions in exchange for North Korea abandoning its nuclear and missile programs.

(This story has been refiled to correct “Ki’s” to “his” in paragraph 8)

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball and David Brunnstrom; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Deadly storms leave thousands without power in eastern U.S

A view of clouds, part of a weather system seen from near Franklin, Texas, U.S., in this still image from social media video dated April 13, 2019. TWITTER @DOC_SANGER/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Tornadoes, wind gusts of up to 70 mph and pounding hail remained threats early on Monday from eastern New York and into New England, as the remnants of a deadly storm push out to sea, the National Weather Service said.

More than 79,000 homes and businesses were without power in Virginia, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.US, with 89,000 more outages reported across Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Maryland and New York.

The affected areas will get heavy rains, winds with gusts of up to 70 mph (110 kph) and the possibility of hail, NWS Weather Prediction Center in Maryland said.

“This is an ongoing threat,” said Brian Hurley, from the center.

“There are short spin-ups, pockets of heavy rain and damaging winds that can still hit before this pushes off shore.”

The weekend’s storm brought tornadoes that killed at least five people, including three children, in the U.S. South, officials said.

The massive storm system sped from Texas eastward with dozens of twisters reported as touching down across the South from Texas through Georgia into Pennsylvania.

Nearly 2,300 U.S. flights were canceled by Sunday evening, more then 90 percent of them at airports in Chicago; Houston, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Pittsburgh; Columbus, Ohio and a dozen major airports on the Eastern Seaboard, according to FlightAware.com.

But no major flight delays were reported on the east coast before 6 a.m. Monday.

The storm’s cold front brought snow to Chicago on Sunday, with 1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm) reported in central Illinois.

Two children, siblings aged three and eight, were killed on Saturday when a tree fell on the car in which they were sitting in Pollok, Texas, said a spokeswoman for the Angelina County Sheriff’s Department.

A third child, Sebastian Omar Martinez, 13, drowned late on Saturday when he fell into a drainage ditch filled with flash floodwaters near Monroe, Louisiana, said Deputy Glenn Springfield of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office.

In another storm death nearby, an unidentified victim’s body was trapped in a vehicle submerged in floodwaters in Calhoun, Louisiana, Springfield said.

In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant said one person was killed and 11 injured over the weekend as tornadoes ripped through 17 counties and left 26,000 homes and businesses without electricity.

In addition, three people were killed when a private jet crashed in Mississippi on Saturday, although Bryant said it was unclear whether it was caused by the weather.

Soaking rains could snarl the Monday morning commute on the East Coast before the storm moves off to sea.

“The biggest impact rush hour-wise probably will be Boston, around 7 to 8 o’clock in the morning, and around New York City around 5 or 6 o’clock, before sunrise,” NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Barbara Goldberg and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)

Indian police investigate who helped young American killed on remote island

An American self-styled adventurer and Christian missionary, John Allen Chau, has been killed and buried by a tribe of hunter-gatherers on a remote island in the Indian Ocean where he had gone to proselytize, according to local law enforcement officials, in this undated image obtained from a social media on November 23, 2018. @JOHNACHAU/via REUTERS

By Sanjib Kumar Roy

PORT BLAIR, India (Reuters) – Indian authorities said on Friday they are investigating whether a young American believed to have been killed by an isolated tribe on a remote island, may have had help from more people than initially thought to make his illegal voyage.

John Chau, 26, was allegedly killed on Nov. 17 by people of the Sentinelese tribe who inhabit the North Sentinel Island in the Andaman and Nicobar island chain. Chau’s family said in a social media post he was a Christian missionary and mountaineer.

It is illegal for people to visit the island and seven people suspected of helping Chau reach it, including fishermen, have been arrested.

The fishermen told police that they saw Chau’s body being dragged across a beach and buried in the sand.

Police are now investigating if Chau had help from other people to travel to North Sentinel, Vijay Singh, senior superintendent of police (SSP) in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, said in a statement.

Police would investigate “the sequence of events, the sea route followed”, and other matters said Singh.

The Sentinelese, hunter-gatherers armed with primitive spears and bows and arrows, are considered to be the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world and the most isolated such group.

The tribe, estimated to be only a few dozen in number, have for decades aggressively resisted contact with the outside world.

Anthropologists were briefly in contact with the tribe in the early 1990s, but their effort was abandoned due to fears that contact with the outside world could expose the tribe to pathogens and lead to their extinction.

North Sentinel, 50 km (31 miles) west of Port Blair – the capital of the island cluster – is protected by laws which bar even fishing within a 5-nautical mile radius of the island. The law also bars tourism or photography. Those guilty of breaking the law face jail of up to three years.

In a social media post, Chau’s family called on authorities to release his friends in the Andaman Islands saying they did not blame anyone for his death.

Dependra Pathak, director general of police in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, told Reuters police had to follow the law.

“I understand the emotional concern of the family,” he said. “But we’ll be handling the entire issue keeping in mind the law.”

He said authorities were looking into whether they could retrieve Chau’s body.

“We have to respect the utmost sensitivities in this case,” he said, adding it was the moral duty of society to protect and respect the tribe that has lived in isolation for millennia.

‘VULNERABLE’

Rights groups including Survival International warned that the Sentinelese face catastrophe unless they are protected.

“They’re the most vulnerable peoples on the planet,” Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, said in a statement.

The people could be wiped out by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance, he said.

Some people who said they knew Chau described him in glowing terms on social media, while others criticized his visit to the island.

“John wasn’t reckless; he was incredibly and profoundly filled with purpose and calling,” Sarah Prince, who described Chau as a “dear friend”, said in a post on Instagram.

“His ‘adventure’ to India was to bring the love of Jesus to the Sentinelese people. Ultimately it is what he gave his life for, and he was prepared to do it.”

Others called his action irresponsible and said he should not be glorified.

“While I am sad for his family, the Sentinelese have the right to remain uncontacted and keep their own faith.” said another Instagram user.

Chau had been able to make contact with the tribe and return to the fishing boat two or three times, according to notes he left with the fishermen that are now with authorities.

“What has happened is not very clearly spelled out in his notes, but it is indicative of his deep expedition planning and his determination to contact these aborigines despite knowing he would face vigorous rejection,” said Pathak.

(Reporting by Sanjib Kumar Roy and Sankalp Phartiyal; Writing and additional reporting by Euan Rocha; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Saudi Arabia must halt Yemen strikes: U.N. child rights panel

FILE PHOTO: Mukhtar Hadi, who survived a Saudi-led air strike that killed dozens including children, stands outside his house in Saada, Yemen September 4, 2018. Picture taken September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Naif Rahma/File Photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – A U.N. human rights watchdog called on Saudi Arabia on Thursday to immediately halt its deadly airstrikes against civilian targets in Yemen and to prosecute officials responsible for child casualties due to unlawful attacks.

The censure by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child coincided with international concern at the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Riyadh’s military role in Yemen, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2.

Pressure has mounted on Saudi Arabia, including from allies, to do more to limit civilian casualties in a 3-1/2 year civil war that has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

Riyadh leads a Western-backed coalition of Arab states supporting the Yemeni government in fighting against the Iran-allied Houthi movement that controls Yemen’s capital. Britain and the United States are among countries supplying the coalition with weapons and military intelligence.

Saudi Arabia told the child rights panel last week that it was working hard to correct mistaken targeting by its military alliance, but the experts voiced skepticism.

The panel of 18 independent experts, in its conclusions issued on Thursday, took note of the Saudi statement but said that Yemeni children continue to be killed, maimed and orphaned.

“We asked them to put a halt immediately to these air strikes,” Clarence Nelson, panel vice-chair, told reporters.

At least 1,248 children had been killed and nearly the same number wounded in air strikes since March 2015, including dozens killed in a strike on a school bus in Saada province in August, U.N. figures show.

COALITION “INVESTIGATING THEMSELVES”

“Nearly 20 percent of the deaths of civilians are children. So that’s one in five civilians killed is a child under 18. That’s a lot of children,” Nelson said.

All sides have attacked civilian targets in Yemen including homes, medical facilities, schools, farms, weddings and markets, in breach of international law, the panel said.

The panel voiced concern at “the inefficiency of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) set up by the coalition in 2016 to investigate allegations of unlawful attacks by (Saudi Arabia) and members of the coalition on children and facilities and spaces frequented by children”.

“There has been no case, let alone a case involving child casualties, recruitment or use of children in armed hostilities, where its investigations led to prosecutions and/or disciplinary sanctions imposed upon individuals, including military officials of (Saudi Arabia),” it said.

Nelson, referring to the JIAT team, said: “Firstly it was set up by coalition, they are essentially investigating themselves. Secondly it’s comprised of members from coalition countries. Thirdly, the information we have is that it is not investigating all ‘accidents’.”

He said a large number of strikes and incidents involving civilian casualties and children were not being pursued by JIAT.

The panel called for lifting the coalition’s aerial and naval blockade which it said has deprived millions of Yemenis of food and other vital supplies, mainly through Hodeidah port.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean)

Rising tensions at protests over killing of black man in California

Salena Manni (L), fiancee of Stephon Clark, holds their son Cairo and an unidentified man holds son Aiden (2nd R) while Basim Elkarra speaks and Rev Shane Harris listens at a rally in Sacramento, California, U.S., March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Bob Strong

By Bob Strong

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Tensions mounted over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed Sacramento, California, black man when a protester sustained minor injuries when struck by a sheriff’s patrol car that was under attack by demonstrators, authorities said on Sunday.

About 150 people demonstrated in Sacramento on Saturday night to protest the March 18 shooting death of Stephon Clark, 22, who was gunned down in his grandmother’s yard.

The death of Clark, a father of two, was the latest in a string of killings of black men by police that have triggered street protests and fueled a renewed national debate about bias in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Protesters on Saturday night surrounded two marked Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department patrol cars and “began yelling while pounding and kicking the vehicles’ exterior,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement early Sunday.

“A collision occurred involving the sheriff’s patrol vehicle and a protester who was walking in the roadway,” the statement said. “The patrol car was traveling at slow speeds.”

The protester was identified by local media as Wanda Cleveland, 61, who regularly attends Sacramento City Council meetings.

The protester was transported by the Sacramento Metro Fire Department to a hospital, where she was treated for minor injuries, the Sheriff’s Department said.

“Vandals in the crowd” damaged the patrol car, which “sustained scratches, dents, and a shattered rear window,” the Sheriff’s Department said.

Demonstrators interviewed by local radio and television stations, who prompted a flurry of similar Twitter responses, said the sheriff’s car failed to stop and called the incident a hit-and-run accident.

The incident is under investigation by the Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol.

Saturday’s demonstration brought together a multi-racial crowd, many in it holding signs such as “Stop Police Rage” and “Power to the People.” It was led by retired National Basketball Association player Matt Barnes, who grew up in the area and had two stints with the Sacramento Kings franchise.

Clark was shot by police responding to a report that someone was breaking windows. Police said the officers feared he had a gun but that he was later found to have been holding a cellphone.

Police have said he was moving toward officers in a menacing way. The shooting was captured on a body cam video released by police.

In several days of sporadic protests, protesters have blocked traffic and twice delayed fans from reaching games played by the Kings at the Golden 1 Center.

(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York: editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Special Report: How Myanmar forces burned, looted and killed in a remote village

Rehana Khatun, whose husband Mohammed Nur was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, poses for a picture with her child at Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018.

By Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo, Simon Lewis and Antoni Slodkowski

INN DIN, Myanmar (Reuters) – Bound together, the 10 Rohingya Muslim captives watched their Myanmar Buddhist neighbors dig a shallow grave. Soon afterwards, on the morning of Sept. 2, all 10 lay dead. At least two were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers. The rest were shot by Myanmar troops, two of the gravediggers said.

“One grave for 10 people,” said Soe Chay, 55, a retired soldier from Inn Din’s Rakhine Buddhist community who said he helped dig the pit and saw the killings. The soldiers shot each man two or three times, he said. “When they were being buried, some were still making noises. Others were already dead.”

A scrap of fabric is seen in a shallow grave in Inn Din December 8, 2017. Picture taken December 8, 2017.

A scrap of fabric is seen in a shallow grave in Inn Din December 8, 2017. Picture taken December 8, 2017. REUTERS

The killings in the coastal village of Inn Din marked another bloody episode in the ethnic violence sweeping northern Rakhine state, on Myanmar’s western fringe. Nearly 690,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled their villages and crossed the border into Bangladesh since August. None of Inn Din’s 6,000 Rohingya remained in the village as of October.

The Rohingya accuse the army of arson, rapes and killings aimed at rubbing them out of existence in this mainly Buddhist nation of 53 million. The United Nations has said the army may have committed genocide; the United States has called the action ethnic cleansing. Myanmar says its “clearance operation” is a legitimate response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. But most Burmese consider them to be unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh; the army refers to the Rohingya as “Bengalis.” In recent years, sectarian tensions have risen and the government has confined more than 100,000 Rohingya in camps where they have limited access to food, medicine and education.

Reuters has pieced together what happened in Inn Din in the days leading up to the killing of the 10 Rohingya – eight men and two high school students in their late teens.

Until now, accounts of the violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine state have been provided only by its victims. The Reuters reconstruction draws for the first time on interviews with Buddhist villagers who confessed to torching Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims.

This account also marks the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel themselves. Members of the paramilitary police gave Reuters insider descriptions of the operation to drive out the Rohingya from Inn Din, confirming that the military played the lead role in the campaign.

PHOTOGRAPHS FROM A MASSACRE

The slain men’s families, now sheltering in Bangladesh refugee camps, identified the victims through photographs shown to them by Reuters. The dead men were fishermen, shopkeepers, the two teenage students and an Islamic teacher.

Three photographs, provided to Reuters by a Buddhist village elder, capture key moments in the massacre at Inn Din, from the Rohingya men’s detention by soldiers in the early evening of Sept. 1 to their execution shortly after 10 a.m. on Sept. 2. Two photos – one taken the first day, the other on the day of the killings – show the 10 captives lined up in a row, kneeling. The final photograph shows the men’s bloodied bodies piled in the shallow grave.

 

Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel in Inn Din village September 1, 2017. Handout via REUTERS

The Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre was what prompted Myanmar police authorities to arrest two of the news agency’s reporters. The reporters, Burmese citizens Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were detained on Dec. 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents relating to Rakhine.

Then, on Jan. 10, the military issued a statement that confirmed portions of what Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo and their colleagues were preparing to report, acknowledging that 10 Rohingya men were massacred in the village. It confirmed that Buddhist villagers attacked some of the men with swords and soldiers shot the others dead.

The statement coincided with an application to the court by prosecutors to charge Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, which dates back to the time of colonial British rule. The charges carry a maximum 14-year prison sentence.

But the military’s version of events is contradicted in important respects by accounts given to Reuters by Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim witnesses. The military said the 10 men belonged to a group of 200 “terrorists” that attacked security forces. Soldiers decided to kill the men, the army said, because intense fighting in the area made it impossible to transfer them to police custody. The army said it would take action against those involved.

Buddhist villagers interviewed for this article reported no attack by a large number of insurgents on security forces in Inn Din. And Rohingya witnesses told Reuters that soldiers plucked the 10 from among hundreds of men, women and children who had sought safety on a nearby beach.

Scores of interviews with Rakhine Buddhist villagers, soldiers, paramilitary police, Rohingya Muslims and local administrators further revealed:

– The military and paramilitary police organized Buddhist residents of Inn Din and at least two other villages to torch Rohingya homes, more than a dozen Buddhist villagers said. Eleven Buddhist villagers said Buddhists committed acts of violence, including killings. The government and army have repeatedly blamed Rohingya insurgents for burning villages and homes.

– An order to “clear” Inn Din’s Rohingya hamlets was passed down the command chain from the military, said three paramilitary police officers speaking on condition of anonymity and a fourth police officer at an intelligence unit in the regional capital Sittwe. Security forces wore civilian clothes to avoid detection during raids, one of the paramilitary police officers said.

– Some members of the paramilitary police looted Rohingya property, including cows and motorcycles, in order to sell it, according to village administrator Maung Thein Chay and one of the paramilitary police officers.

– Operations in Inn Din were led by the army’s 33rd Light Infantry Division, supported by the paramilitary 8th Security Police Battalion, according to four police officers, all of them members of the battalion.

POTENTIAL CRIMINAL CASES

Michael G. Karnavas, a U.S. lawyer based in The Hague who has worked on cases at international criminal tribunals, said evidence that the military had organized Buddhist civilians to commit violence against Rohingya “would be the closest thing to a smoking gun in establishing not just intent, but even specific genocidal intent, since the attacks seem designed to destroy the Rohingya or at least a significant part of them.”

Evidence of the execution of men in government custody also could be used to build a case of crimes against humanity against military commanders, Karnavas said, if it could be shown that it was part of a “widespread or systematic” campaign targeting the Rohingya population.

Kevin Jon Heller, a University of London law professor who served as a legal associate for convicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, said an order to clear villages by military command was “unequivocally the crime against humanity of forcible transfer.”

Shuna Khatu, 30, whose husband Habizu was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, poses for a picture at Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018

Shuna Khatu, 30, whose husband Habizu was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, poses for a picture at Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018 REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

In December, the United States imposed sanctions on the army officer who had been in charge of Western Command troops in Rakhine, Major General Maung Maung Soe. So far, however, Myanmar has not faced international sanctions over the violence.

Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has disappointed many former supporters in the West by not speaking out against the army’s actions. They had hoped the election of her National League for Democracy party in 2015 would bring democratic reform and an opening of the country. Instead, critics say, Suu Kyi is in thrall to the generals who freed her from house arrest in 2010.

Asked about the evidence Reuters has uncovered about the massacre, government spokesman Zaw Htay said, “We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials.” If there was “strong and reliable primary evidence” of abuses, the government would investigate, he said. “And then if we found the evidence is true and the violations are there, we will take the necessary action according to our existing law.”

When told that paramilitary police officers had said they received orders to “clear” Inn Din’s Rohingya hamlets, he replied, “We have to verify. We have to ask the Ministry of Home Affairs and Myanmar police forces.” Asked about the allegations of looting by paramilitary police officers, he said the police would investigate.

He expressed surprise when told that Buddhist villagers had confessed to burning Rohingya homes, then added, “We recognize that many, many different allegations are there, but we need to verify who did it. It is very difficult in the current situation.”

Zaw Htay defended the military operation in Rakhine. “The international community needs to understand who did the first terrorist attacks. If that kind of terrorist attack took place in European countries, in the United States, in London, New York, Washington, what would the media say?”

NEIGHBOR TURNS ON NEIGHBOR

Inn Din lies between the Mayu mountain range and the Bay of Bengal, about 50 km (30 miles) north of Rakhine’s state capital Sittwe. The settlement is made up of a scattering of hamlets around a school, clinic and Buddhist monastery. Buddhist homes cluster in the northern part of the village. For many years there had been tensions between the Buddhists and their Muslim neighbors, who accounted for almost 90 percent of the roughly 7,000 people in the village. But the two communities had managed to co-exist, fishing the coastal waters and cultivating rice in the paddies.

In October 2016, Rohingya militants attacked three police posts in northern Rakhine – the beginning of a new insurgency. After the attacks, Rohingya in Inn Din said many Buddhists stopped hiring them as farmhands and home help. The Buddhists said the Rohingya stopped showing up for work.

On Aug. 25 last year, the rebels struck again, hitting 30 police posts and an army base. The closest attack was just 4 km to the north. In Inn Din, several hundred fearful Buddhists took refuge in the monastery in the center of the village, more than a dozen of their number said. Inn Din’s Buddhist night watchman San Thein, 36, said Buddhist villagers feared being “swallowed up” by their Muslim neighbors. A Buddhist elder said all Rohingya, “including children,” were part of the insurgency and therefore “terrorists.”

On Aug. 27, about 80 troops from Myanmar’s 33rd Light Infantry Division arrived in Inn Din, nine Buddhist villagers said. Two paramilitary police officers and Soe Chay, the retired soldier, said the troops belonged to the 11th infantry regiment of this division. The army officer in charge told villagers they must cook for the soldiers and act as lookouts at night, Soe Chay said. The officer promised his troops would protect Buddhist villagers from their Rohingya neighbors. Five Buddhist villagers said the officer told them they could volunteer to join security operations. Young volunteers would need their parents’ permission to join the troops, however.

The army found willing participants among Inn Din’s Buddhist “security group,” nine members of the organization and two other villagers said. This informal militia was formed after violence broke out in 2012 between Rakhine’s Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, sparked by reports of the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men. Myanmar media reported at the time that the three were sentenced to death by a district court.

Inn Din’s security group built watch huts around the Buddhist part of the village, and its members took turns to stand guard. Its ranks included Buddhist firefighters, school teachers, students and unemployed young men. They were useful to the military because they knew the local geography, said Inn Din’s Buddhist administrator, Maung Thein Chay.

Most of the group’s 80 to 100 men armed themselves with machetes and sticks. They also had a handful of guns, according to one member. Some wore green fatigue-style clothing they called “militia suits.”

ORGANIZING THE ARSON ATTACKS

In the days that followed the 33rd Light Infantry’s arrival, soldiers, police and Buddhist villagers burned most of the homes of Inn Din’s Rohingya Muslims, a dozen Buddhist residents said.

Two of the paramilitary police officers, both members of the 8th Security Police Battalion, said their battalion raided Rohingya hamlets with soldiers from the newly arrived 33rd Light Infantry. One of the police officers said he received verbal orders from his commander to “go and clear” areas where Rohingya lived, which he took to mean to burn them.

The second police officer described taking part in several raids on villages north of Inn Din. The raids involved at least 20 soldiers and between five and seven police, he said. A military captain or major led the soldiers, while a police captain oversaw the police team. The purpose of the raids was to deter the Rohingya from returning.

“If they have a place to live, if they have food to eat, they can carry out more attacks,” he said. “That’s why we burned their houses, mainly for security reasons.”

Soldiers and paramilitary police wore civilian shirts and shorts to blend in with the villagers, according to the second police officer and Inn Din’s Buddhist administrator, Maung Thein Chay. If the media identified the involvement of security personnel, the police officer explained, “we would have very big problems.”

A police spokesman, Colonel Myo Thu Soe, said he knew of no instances of security forces torching villages or wearing civilian clothing. Nor was there any order to “go and clear” or “set fire” to villages. “This is very much impossible,” he told Reuters. “If there are things like that, it should be reported officially, and it has to be investigated officially.”

“As you’ve told me about these matters now, we will scrutinize and check back,” he added. “What I want to say for now is that as for the security forces, there are orders and instructions and step-by-step management, and they have to follow them. So, I don’t think these things happened.”

The army did not respond to a request for comment.

A medical assistant at the Inn Din village clinic, Aung Myat Tun, 20, said he took part in several raids. “Muslim houses were easy to burn because of the thatched roofs. You just light the edge of the roof,” he said. “The village elders put monks’ robes on the end of sticks to make the torches and soaked them with kerosene. We couldn’t bring phones. The police said they will shoot and kill us if they see any of us taking photos.”

The night watchman San Thein, a leading member of the village security group, said troops first swept through the Muslim hamlets. Then, he said, the military sent in Buddhist villagers to burn the houses.

“We got the kerosene for free from the village market after the kalars ran away,” he said, using a Burmese slur for people from South Asia.

A Rakhine Buddhist youth said he thought he heard the sound of a child inside one Rohingya home that was burned. A second villager said he participated in burning a Rohingya home that was occupied.

“I STARTED HACKING HIM WITH A SWORD”

Soe Chay, the retired soldier who was to dig the grave for the 10 Rohingya men, said he participated in one killing. He told Reuters that troops discovered three Rohingya men and a woman hiding beside a haystack in Inn Din on Aug. 28. One of the men had a smartphone that could be used to take incriminating pictures.

The soldiers told Soe Chay to “do whatever you want to them,” he said. They pointed out the man with the phone and told him to stand up. “I started hacking him with a sword, and a soldier shot him when he fell down.”

Similar violence was playing out across a large part of northern Rakhine, dozens of Buddhist and Rohingya residents said.

Data from the U.N. Operational Satellite Applications Programme shows scores of Rohingya villages in Rakhine state burned in an area stretching 110 km. New York-based Human Rights Watch says more than 350 villages were torched over the three months from Aug. 25, according to an analysis of satellite imagery.

In the village of Laungdon, some 65 km north of Inn Din, Thar Nge, 38, said he was asked by police and local officials to join a Buddhist security group. “The army invited us to burn the kalar village at Hpaw Ti Kaung,” he said, adding that four villagers and nearly 20 soldiers and police were involved in the operation. “Police shot inside the village so all the villagers fled and then we set fire to it. Their village was burned because police believed the villagers supported Rohingya militants – that’s why they cleaned it with fire.”

A Buddhist student from Ta Man Tha village, 15 km north of Laungdon, said he too participated in the burning of Rohingya homes. An army officer sought 30 volunteers to burn “kalar” villages, said the student. Nearly 50 volunteered and gathered fuel from motorbikes and from a market.

“They separated us into several groups. We were not allowed to enter the village directly. We had to surround it and approach the village that way. The army would shoot gunfire ahead of us and then the army asked us to enter,” he said.

After the Rohingya had fled Inn Din, Buddhist villagers took their property, including chickens and goats, Buddhist residents told Reuters. But the most valuable goods, mostly motorcycles and cattle, were collected by members of the 8th Security Police Battalion and sold, said the first police officer and Inn Din village administrator Maung Thein Chay. Maung Thein Chay said the commander of the 8th Battalion, Thant Zin Oo, struck a deal with Buddhist businessmen from other parts of Rakhine state and sold them cattle. The police officer said he had stolen four cows from Rohingya villagers, only for Thant Zin Oo to snatch them away.

Reached by phone, Thant Zin Oo did not comment. Colonel Myo Thu Soe, the police spokesman, said the police would investigate the allegations of looting.

THE VICTIMS ARE CHOSEN

By Sept. 1, several hundred Rohingya from Inn Din were sheltering at a makeshift camp on a nearby beach. They erected tarpaulin shelters to shield themselves from heavy rain.

Among this group were the 10 Rohingya men who would be killed the next morning. Reuters has identified all of the 10 by speaking to witnesses among Inn Din’s Buddhist community and Rohingya relatives and witnesses tracked down in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Five of the men, Dil Mohammed, 35, Nur Mohammed, 29, Shoket Ullah, 35, Habizu, 40, and Shaker Ahmed, 45, were fishermen or fish sellers. The wealthiest of the group, Abul Hashim, 25, ran a store selling nets and machine parts to fishermen and farmers. Abdul Majid, a 45-year-old father of eight, ran a small shop selling areca nut wrapped in betel leaves, commonly chewed like tobacco. Abulu, 17, and Rashid Ahmed, 18, were high school students. Abdul Malik, 30, was an Islamic teacher.

According to the statement released by the army on Jan. 10, security forces had gone to a coastal area where they “were attacked by about 200 Bengalis with sticks and swords.” The statement said that “as the security forces opened fire into the sky, the Bengalis dispersed and ran away. Ten of them were arrested.”

Three Buddhist and more than a dozen Rohingya witnesses contradict this version of events. Their accounts differ from one another in some details. The Buddhists spoke of a confrontation between a small group of Rohingya men and some soldiers near the beach. But there is unanimity on a crucial point: None said the military had come under a large-scale attack in Inn Din.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay referred Reuters to the army’s statement of Jan. 10 and declined to elaborate further. The army did not respond to a request for comment.

The Rohingya witnesses, who were on or near the beach, said Islamic teacher Abdul Malik had gone back to his hamlet with his sons to collect food and bamboo for shelter. When he returned, a group of at least seven soldiers and armed Buddhist villagers were following him, these witnesses said. Abdul Malik walked towards the watching Rohingya Muslims unsteadily, with blood dripping from his head. Some witnesses said they had seen one of the armed men strike the back of Abdul Malik’s head with a knife.

Then the military beckoned with their guns to the crowd of roughly 300 Rohingya to assemble in the paddies, these witnesses said. The soldiers and the Rohingya, hailing from different parts of Myanmar, spoke different languages. Educated villagers translated for their fellow Rohingya.

“I could not hear much, but they pointed toward my husband and some other men to get up and come forward,” said Rehana Khatun, 22, the wife of Nur Mohammed, one of the 10 who were later slain. “We heard they wanted the men for a meeting. The military asked the rest of us to return to the beach.”

FRESH CLOTHES AND A LAST MEAL

Soldiers held and questioned the 10 men in a building at Inn Din’s school for a night, the military said. Rashid Ahmed and Abulu had studied there alongside Rakhine Buddhist students until the attacks by Rohingya rebels in October 2016. Schools were shut temporarily, disrupting the pair’s final year.

“I just remember him sitting there and studying, and it was always amazing to me because I am not educated,” said Rashid Ahmed’s father, farmer Abdu Shakur, 50. “I would look at him reading. He would be the first one in the family to be educated.”

A photograph, taken on the evening the men were detained, shows the two Rohingya students and the eight older men kneeling on a path beside the village clinic, most of them shirtless. They were stripped when first detained, a dozen Rohingya witnesses said. It isn’t clear why. That evening, Buddhist villagers said, the men were “treated” to a last meal of beef. They were provided with fresh clothing.

On Sept. 2, the men were taken to scrubland north of the village, near a graveyard for Buddhist residents, six Buddhist villagers said. The spot is backed by a hill crested with trees. There, on their knees, the 10 were photographed again and questioned by security personnel about the disappearance of a local Buddhist farmer named Maung Ni, according to a Rakhine elder who said he witnessed the interrogation.

Reuters was not able to establish what happened to Maung Ni. According to Buddhist neighbors, the farmer went missing after leaving home early on Aug. 25 to tend his cattle. Several Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya villagers told Reuters they believed he had been killed, but they knew of no evidence connecting any of the 10 men to his disappearance. The army said in its Jan. 10 statement that “Bengali terrorists” had killed Maung Ni, but did not identify the perpetrators.

Two of the men pictured behind the Rohingya prisoners in the photograph taken on the morning of Sept. 2 belong to the 8th Security Police Battalion. Reuters confirmed the identities of the two men from their Facebook pages and by visiting them in person.

One of the two officers, Aung Min, a police recruit from Yangon, stands directly behind the captives. He looks at the camera as he holds a weapon. The other officer, police Captain Moe Yan Naing, is the figure on the top right. He walks with his rifle over his shoulder.

The day after the two Reuters reporters were arrested in December, Myanmar’s government also announced that Moe Yan Naing had been arrested and was being investigated under the 1923 Official Secrets Act.

Aung Min, who is not facing legal action, declined to speak to Reuters.

VENGEANCE FOR A MISSING FARMER

Three Buddhist youths said they watched from a hut as the 10 Rohingya captives were led up a hill by soldiers towards the site of their deaths.

One of the gravediggers, retired soldier Soe Chay, said Maung Ni’s sons were invited by the army officer in charge of the squad to strike the first blows.

The first son beheaded the Islamic teacher, Abdul Malik, according to Soe Chay. The second son hacked another of the men in the neck.

“After the brothers sliced them both with swords, the squad fired with guns. Two to three shots to one person,” said Soe Chay. A second gravedigger, who declined to be identified, confirmed that soldiers had shot some of the men.

In its Jan. 10 statement, the military said the two brothers and a third villager had “cut the Bengali terrorists” with swords and then, in the chaos, four members of the security forces had shot the captives. “Action will be taken against the villagers who participated in the case and the members of security forces who broke the Rules of Engagement under the law,” the statement said. It didn’t spell out those rules.

Tun Aye, one of the sons of Maung Ni, has been detained on murder charges, his lawyer said on Jan. 13. Contacted by Reuters on Feb. 8, the lawyer declined to comment further. Reuters was unable to reach the other brother.

In October, Inn Din locals pointed two Reuters reporters towards an area of brush behind the hill where they said the killings took place. The reporters discovered a newly cut trail leading to soft, recently disturbed earth littered with bones. Some of the bones were entangled with scraps of clothing and string that appeared to match the cord that is seen binding the captives’ wrists in the photographs. The immediate area was marked by the smell of death.

Reuters showed photographs of the site to three forensic experts: Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights; Derrick Pounder, a pathologist who has consulted for Amnesty International and the United Nations; and Luis Fondebrider, president of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, who investigated the graves of those killed under Argentina’s military junta in the 1970s and 1980s. All observed human remains, including the thoracic part of a spinal column, ribs, scapula, femur and tibia. Pounder said he couldn’t rule out the presence of animal bones as well.

The Rakhine Buddhist elder provided Reuters reporters with a photograph which shows the aftermath of the execution. In it, the 10 Rohingya men are wearing the same clothing as in the previous photo and are tied to each other with the same yellow cord, piled into a small hole in the earth, blood pooling around them. Abdul Malik, the Islamic teacher, appears to have been beheaded. Abulu, the student, has a gaping wound in his neck. Both injuries appear consistent with Soe Chay’s account.

Forensic pathologist Fondebrider reviewed this picture. He said injuries visible on two of the bodies were consistent with “the action of a machete or something sharp that was applied on the throat.”

Some family members did not know for sure that the men had been killed until Reuters returned to their shelters in Bangladesh in January.

“I can’t explain what I feel inside. My husband is dead,” said Rehana Khatun, wife of Nur Mohammed. “My husband is gone forever. I don’t want anything else, but I want justice for his death.”

In Inn Din, the Buddhist elder explained why he chose to share evidence of the killings with Reuters. “I want to be transparent on this case. I don’t want it to happen like that in future.”

 

(Reporting by Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo, Simon Lewis and Antoni Slodkowski; editing by Janet McBride, Martin Howell and Alex Richardson.)

Border Patrol attack leaves one agent dead, another seriously injured

picture of area in Culberson county, Texas

By Kami Klein

A U.S. Border Patrol agent and his partner were attacked in the Big Bend Sector of Culberson County in Texas.  Agent Rogelio Martinez died this morning from his injuries sustained in the attack,while his partner,who has not been identified, is still hospitalized in serious condition.  According to press releases, there was no gunfire involved in the incident.  Both men sustained blunt force trauma to the head.

Agent Martinez, 36 had been a border patrol agent since August 2013.  He and his partner were responding to activity while on patrol near interstate 10 in the Van Horn station area. The region’s mountains and the Rio Grande do not offer the best crossing opportunities for illegal immigrants crossing into the United States from Mexico.  The Border Patrol records show that the Big Bend area only accounted for only about  1 percent of the more than 61,000 apprehensions that have been made along the Southwest border from October 2016 to May 2016..

map of Culberson County Texas

map of Culberson County Texas

After the attack, Agent Martinez’s partner was able to report that they were both injured and needed assistance.  When discovered, the two were transported to a local hospital.  Border Patrol agents and the Culberson county Sheriff’s Department secured the scene and are searching for witnesses or potential suspects. The investigation has since been turned over to the FBI.  

According to a news report with  NBC news, Chris Cabrera, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council labor union and a patrol agent, said the Martinez was hit several times in the head with a blunt object, possibly a large rock.

“We’ve had agents, a good friend of mine actually almost lost his eye. It happens quite a bit, unfortunately,” Cabrera said, adding that patrol vehicles, including helicopters, have been damaged by the throwing of rocks.

Cabrera said the type of rocks that agents are struck with are large in size, approximately as big as a grapefruit or softball. Border Patrol agents have also reported the use of Concrete blocks.

Fox news reported that although few details about the incident have been released, Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, told Fox News on Monday it appeared Martinez and the second agent were “ambushed” by a group of illegal immigrants.

“We don’t know exactly what happened because we weren’t there. However, just from agents that were working in the area, reports are saying it was an attack and it would appear to be an ambush,” Judd said.

As of Monday afternoon no suspects have been apprehended.  

The attack compelled a tweet from President Trump saying,  

 “Border Patrol Officer killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt. We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!”

Last year,  Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan first revealed an increase of attacks in October and November of last year during testimony before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, where there had been a total of 149 incidents of illegals assaulting guards,  Acknowledging the more that 200 percent increase in assaults on agents this year, Morgan testified that Border Patrol agents are “the most assaulted federal law enforcement (agents) in the United States. More than 7,400 Border Patrol agents have been assaulted since 2006. That rose in  2016 by 20%, and year-to-date, we’re seeing an increase of assaults of 200% from the previous year-to-date. It’s a dangerous job.”

Sources:   Fox news, NBC news, Briebart news, U.S. Customs and Border Protection