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How Myanmar’s Infantry Executed the Assault Across Northern Rakhine State

Hundreds of Myanmar soldiers flew to Rakhine State last August to launch a campaign that would drive more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from their homes and leave the region in flames.

“In our plane, we got to eat cake,” wrote Lieutenant Kyi Nyan Lynn on Facebook Aug. 10 post.

“Are you going to eat Bengali meat?” commented a friend. Many Burmese refer to Rohingya as “Bengali” or use the pejorative term “kalar.”

“Whatever, man,” replied the lieutenant.

“Crush the kalar, buddy,” urged another friend.

“Will do,” he replied.

Kyi Nyan Lynn was part of what some Western military analysts refer to as Myanmar’s “tip of the spear:” hundreds of battle-hardened soldiers from two light infantry divisions – the 33rd and 99th – famed for their brutal counter-insurgency campaigns against this nation’s many ethnic minorities.

The United Nations has said, the Rohingya military attacks across northern Rakhine State in August last year may have committed genocide; the United States has called the action ethnic cleansing, but Myanmar denies the allegations.

It has been widely reported that Myanmar soldiers committed mass killings and burned down Rohingya villages. But a Reuter’s investigation is the first comprehensive account of the precise role played by Myanmar’s 33rd and 99th light infantry divisions, how they executed the assault across northern Rakhine State, and the longstanding ties between Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief, and the army’s elite troops.

Reuters spoke to scores of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and Buddhists in Rakhine State, and conducted rare interviews with members of the Myanmar security forces, to reconstruct the actions of these two elite divisions. Interviews with Rohingya, Rakhine witnesses and policemen implicate troops from the two light infantry divisions in arson and killing.

The military is so secretive that even its official spokesmen rarely speak to the media. But Facebook is hugely popular in Myanmar, and Reuters found accounts of soldiers who posted about military life, troop movements and the crackdown in Rakhine State. The Facebook accounts of two members of the elite infantry divisions reveal a raw ethnic hatred.

Kyi Nyan Lynn, the soldier from the 33rd division, told Reuters that the army’s reaction was justified because soldiers were under attack from “Bengali terrorists.”

“They terrorized us first,” he said. “So we were given the duty to crack down on them. As we cracked down, whole villages fled.” He said he wasn’t involved in any killings or arson.

The military and government did not respond to questions from Reuters. In the past, the government has denied allegations of ethnic cleansing in Rakhine and said the security forces mounted legitimate counter-insurgency operations against Rohingya militants. The Ministry of Home Affairs, which is responsible for the police, told Reuters it rejected allegations that policemen had been involved in torching Rohingya villages.

Reported by Simon Lewis, Zeba Siddiqui, Clare Baldwin, Andrew R.C. Marshall

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