Myanmar massacre survivors live amid reminders of tragedy
By TODD PITMAN
Dec. 21, 2017
UKHIA, Bangladesh (AP) — Some of the massacre survivors hold precious photos or mementos that belonged to those they lost. Others bear physical scars or painful memories that swirl in their nightmares. A few survived and found the most treasured gift of all, their loved ones.
More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar since August, bringing stories of atrocities committed by security forces in Myanmar — including reports of an Aug. 27 army massacre in the village of Maung Nu.
The Associated Press interviewed dozens of survivors of that slaughter and found that many carried reminders of the tragedy with them into exile. Here are the stories of 10:
The Associated Press reported this story with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
SHOT AND LEFT FOR DEAD
Mohammadul Hassan, 18, still bears the scars on his chest and back from being shot by soldiers who tried to kill him.
The soldiers entered Hassan's house and tied him up along with two of his brothers. All three were stripped naked and marched to a house where they were forced to kneel, then shot twice in the back by a firing squad.
When one of the soldiers noticed Hassan was still conscious, he shot him a third time in the chest.
Incredibly, Hassan found the strength to get up and stumble away after the soldiers left. He only received medical treatment two weeks later, after being carried over a mountain range and crossing into Bangladesh by boat.
When he thinks about leaving his brothers behind, he says: "I burn up inside ... Every day I see them."
GUNFIRE AND PANIC
Li Juhar, 32, has vivid memories of soldiers arriving in Maung Nu.
"I was at home on Sunday morning when they came," he recalls. "They were shooting into the air, and straight into people's houses. It set off a panic."
Hundreds of people fled to a hillside compound belonging to a pair of prominent businessmen. But the soldiers came there, too, "pointing guns" and shouting "Get out! Get out!"
The soldiers then separated the men and the women, and the massacre began.
Juhar survived by hiding behind a pair of metal fuel drums.
BLINDFOLDED AND BOUND
Mohamed Yaha, 18, saw soldiers tying the hands of men and teenagers behind their backs with nylon rope and blindfolding them with masking tape and headscarves ripped off the women.
"They put the men on the ground in the courtyard, face down, and started kicking them while they were on their backs," the high school student says. Then, "they started hacking people to death with long knives."
When Yaha — who was not yet tied up — began running, soldiers fired in his direction.
He escaped, but a bullet grazed his arm.
Shafir Rahman, 50, says he will never forget seeing one of the slaughter's first, horrific moments: a soldier hammering a four-inch nail into the side of a man's head with a rifle butt.
"Until that happened, until that moment, I didn't think they were really going to kill anybody," Rahman says. "Women were crying for their husbands, saying 'don't worry, they aren't going to do anything, they are just tying them up.'"
Rahman, who lost his father, a brother, a 17-year-old son and two nephews, also saw soldiers wrapping corpses into orange and blue tarps and hauling them away with push-carts.
"I don't know where they took them," he says. "I just saw what was left. There was blood everywhere."
A WIFE, A HUSBAND AND ONE LAST PHOTO
Kulilla Khatun, 65, has just one photo of her 81-year-old husband, Nazir Ahmed — a laminated image made several years ago.
Khatun says soldiers dragged away him into a courtyard outside the house she was cowering in, and decapitated him with machetes.
"People found his head, but they couldn't find his body," she says, eyes welling with tears.
Khatun spent the rest of the day in a haze, barely able to move.
A PRECIOUS IDENTIFICATION CARD
Three months after the massacre, Abdul Jabar, 61, never fails to carry a precious item with him in the front pocket of his shirt — an identification card belonging to his son, who was slain.
Somebody who fled the compound the same day found it and gave it to him, covered in blood. Now, it is the only photo of his son that he has left.
Jabar says he wants to show the photo to people who ask about his son and tell them what happened.
"I keep it with me because I'm afraid it will get lost," he says, running his index finger over the laminated card. "If I look at it for a long time, I cannot control my tears."
Mohammad Nasir, 32, was tied arm to arm to six other men and marched to the edge of a bank of trees, where he saw the bodies of dozens of people crumpled on the ground.
"I was certain I was going to be killed. Only my final prayers were on my mind and lips," he says. "Everyone was screaming."
The ropes binding Nasir's arms came loose, though, and he began to run. The soldiers opened fire but did not give chase.
Nasir only realized half an hour later that he had been shot in the elbow.
"I want to know what the world has to say about all the people who've been killed," he says. "Why have they killed so many of us, I want to know."
A BABY, LOST AND FOUND
Asmida, 20, lost her 9-month-old son when she tried to stop soldiers from dragging her husband away. Troops kicked her until she lost consciousness, and when she woke, the baby was gone and her husband was dead.
After the massacre ended, Asmida — who only uses one name — searched unsuccessfully for the infant and eventually fled to another village, having given up hope of ever finding him alive.
Several days later, a relative brought her a small baby swathed in a blanket, crying with a high fever.
It was her son, Mohamed Umair.
"It was unbelievable," she says of their reunion. "It was like touching the sky."
A BOY, A SHIRT AND A BOOK BAG
When Jamila Begum, 35, fled Maung Nu after the massacre, she only had time to take two mementos of the 15-year-old son she lost — a shirt he often wore, and the book bag he always carried to school.
"He used to keep it beside him when he was reading at night," she says of the bag, as tears roll down her cheeks. "He was a good student."
Begum says she had first watched solders hack her husband to death with machetes. But when they tied her son, Jahin Gir, to a tree and prepared to shoot him, she could not look anymore.
"Why did they kill him?" she says. "What did he do?"
ONE FAMILY REUNITED
Bodru Duza, 52, is one of the luckiest survivors. After the massacre, he lost track of his wife and children and fled to Bangladesh alone, assuming all of them had been killed.
But in mid-November, there a tearful reunion: the rest of his family joined him in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Despite the happy ending, Duza's family did not emerge from the massacre unscathed. Unprompted, his five-year-old son casually recounts the slaughter he watched, running his hand across his throat to mimic soldiers hacking villagers to death.