NEW DELHI: Much of the media in India and elsewhere on 25 September used a story that alleges that Myanmar government forces found the bodies of 28 Hindu villagers on 24 September.

The independently unverified claims of the Myanmar government allege that Hindu villagers were killed reportedly by Muslim militants last month,

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) group denied killing the Hindus saying it did not attack civilians.

Presciently, the office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Defense Services on 5 September announced on Facebook that “ARSA extremist Bengali terrorists” were planning to carry out attacks in Myanmar’s major cities with the help of a foreign government. No evidence, no media release with details, no press conference to enable questions to be asked. Facebook post! The Neanderthals in the Myanmar army have become the new tech savvy millennial.

What makes the Myanmar military claims even more interesting is that the military’s mentioning of a “foreign country supporting terrorism” coincidentally came on the same day as a report published by Mizzima, which cited “unnamed” Indian and Bangladeshi sources claiming that Pakistan and the Islamic State supported the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in attacking dozens of police outposts in the early hours of 25 August, which sparked the current conflict and humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State.

The Mizzima report further claimed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) helped train ARSA fighters in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. It also claims that an Islamic State recruiter in Iraq “wished ARSA the best in its jihad against the Burmese colonialists, Buddhist and Hindu fanatics” in a phone call intercepted by Indian intelligence. This was allegedly the coup de grace.

The ISIS has arrived. Shades of McCarthy! Red under your bed!

The Chittagong Hill Tracts is the most militarised part of Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Directorate of Armed Forces Intelligence (DGBFI) is no bumbling sleuth agency. When the Sheikh Hasina government is locked in a major battle with radical Islamic elements, it stretches one’s credulity to suggest that the Bangladesh army, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), the DGBFI and the feared Rapid Action Battalions (RAB) all had their heads in the sand.

Lest it be forgotten, Mizzima was set up by a former Burmese exile while in India. Charges of hijacking against him were conveniently amicably settled. No less than a former junior Foreign Minister of India alluded to his being funded in a editorial page article in a major English daily in New Delhi. This worthy gentleman was also given an Indian passport to travel around the world in his exile days.

It gets curiouser and curiouser as Lewis Caroll would put it. A New Delhi based web portal, run by an individual with self confessed Indian Intelligence links put out another unverified story that Buddhists and Hindus were killed by ARSA militants. The story is sourced to another former Thai based exile publishing venture now operating from Yangon. This in turn sources the Facebook post of the Burmese military chief. Here we go around the mulberry bush!

Myanmar has not accepted a single inquiry procedure under the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Body mechanisms. It has not ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention against Torture, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination or the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Speaking on September 19, at the UN Human Rights Council, Marzuki Darusman, Chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar stated that he had not been able to visit Myanmar as yet.

The three member International Fact Finding Commission on Myanmar appointed by the UN Human Rights Council on 30 May has been refused permission to visit Rakhine state.

The “Advisory Commission on Rakhine State”, chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was not mandated to investigate specific cases of alleged human rights violations.

On August 8, 2017, the Myanmar Government-appointed “Investigation Commission for Maungdaw in Rakhine State” published a summary of its final report. Not surprisingly, it was unable to verify a number of allegations, indicating that they required further investigation, while mostly rejecting the allegations of serious human rights violations.

If the Myanmar Army was sure about its facts that the ARSA killed Hindu villagers, it must immediately invite the International Forum for Mass Grave Victim Identification or the International Commission on Missing Person (ICMP) out of Bournemouth University (BU) in the United Kingdom.

As BU puts it, “A high standard of forensic investigation of mass graves is important for two reasons. Firstly, evidence can be used in national and international criminal prosecutions to successfully bring those responsible for atrocities to justice. Secondly, there is an overwhelming need for families to know the truth about their loved ones and carry out burial and commemoration when the missing are positively identified.”

Disinformation in conflict is big business. Remember, Weapons of Mass Destruction or babies dying in Kuwait as incubators were snatched away from them in the recent past. Remember the Reichstag fire before the Second World War, or the Zimmermann telegram in the First World War? The spook brigade are good, they forgot to cover their tracks. All stories lead to the Burmese Army chief’s Facebook page. When did the Burmese army start spreading the gospel truth?

The moral of this story for the media? Verify and Publish. Facts are sacred, comment is free.

(Ravi Nair is is with the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre)