The “clearance operation” began at 3 a.m. in western Myanmar, the soldier says.
The colonel in charge told the troops in Myanmar’s 565th light infantry battalion their task was to wipe out the Rohingya villagers in the area, ordering them to “shoot all that you see and all that you hear,” Pvt. Myo Win Tun says in video testimony obtained by NBC News.
His unit carried out the order, the private says, raping women first before killing them along with children and the elderly. The troops buried 30 bodies in a mass grave near a cell phone tower and an army base, the soldier says.
“The Muslim men were shot on their foreheads and kicked into the grave,” the soldier says.
His shocking testimony, along with that of another soldier deployed to a nearby township, marks the first time members of Myanmar’s military have confessed to mass killings in August 2017 that United Nations officials and human rights groups call a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya minority.
The testimony of the two soldiers, which was first reported by the New York Times, echoes the accounts of many Rohingya refugees and could have a dramatic impact on future proceedings at the International Criminal Court, which is examining whether Myanmar military officers committed crimes against the Rohingya community.
It remains unclear if the two soldiers will be charged, or serve as witnesses for the prosecution of senior military leaders.
“This is the first time that Myanmar soldiers are coming forward in this way,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights, a human rights group.
Smith said the soldiers’ detailed testimony confirms acts of violence against Rohingyas that amount to genocide and crimes against humanity, and could open the door for others in the military to come clean.
“This is the crack in the armor of impunity in the history of the Myanmar army’s campaign against the Rohingya and other ethnic nationalities,” Smith told NBC News.
The two soldiers fled Myanmar and have been flown to The Hague, where the International Criminal Court is located, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
NBC News could not independently confirm the statements from the soldiers but their testimony appears to match accounts from human rights groups and Rohingya refugees.
Myanmar’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
In his video testimony, Pvt. Myo Win Tun says the same colonel who gave his unit the original orders, Col. Than Htike, told the troops “to exterminate all” Rohingya.
Both soldiers, speaking without emotion in a flat monotone, described how the troops from all ranks raped Rohingya women before destroying the villages.
“We also raped Muslim women prior to shooting them,” Pvt. Myo Win Tun says. “There were the Corporals, Sergeants, and Officers who raped Muslim women. I also raped one time.”