The grainy black-and-white photograph, printed in a new book on the Rohingya crisis authored by Myanmar’s army, shows a man standing over two bodies, wielding a farming tool.
“Bengalis killed local ethnics brutally,” the caption says.
The photograph appears in a section of the book covering ethnic riots in Myanmar in the 1940s. The text says the image shows Buddhists murdered by Rohingya — members of a Muslim minority the book refers to as “Bengalis” to imply that they are illegal immigrants.
However, an examination of the photograph showed that it was taken during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, when hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis were killed by Pakistani troops.
It is one of three images that appear in the book — published in July by the Burmese Ministry of Defense’s Psychological Warfare and Public Relations Department — that have been misrepresented as archival photographs from the western state of Rakhine.
Reuters found that two of the photographs were originally taken in Bangladesh and Tanzania, while a third was falsely labeled as depicting Rohingya entering Myanmar from Bangladesh, when it showed migrants leaving the country.
Burmese government spokesman Zaw Htay and a military spokesman could not be reached for comment on the authenticity of the images. Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary U Myo Myint Maung declined to comment, saying that he had not read the book.
The 117-page Myanmar Politics and the Tatmadaw: Part I relates the army’s narrative of August last year, when about 700,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine state to Bangladesh, according to UN agencies, triggering reports of mass killings, rape and arson.
Tatmadaw is the official name of Myanmar’s military.
Much of the content is sourced to the military’s “True News” information unit, which since the start of the crisis has distributed news giving the army’s perspective, mostly via Facebook.
The book is on sale at bookstores across the commercial capital of Yangon.
Facebook on Monday banned the army chief and other military officials who were accused of using the platform to “inflame ethnic and religious tensions.”
The same day, UN investigators accused Senior General Min Aung Hlaing of overseeing a campaign with “genocidal intent” and recommended that he and other senior officials be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
In its new book, the military denies the allegations of abuses, blaming the violence on “Bengali terrorists” that it says were intent on carving out a Rohingya state named “Arkistan.”
Attacks by Rohingya militants calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army preceded the military’s crackdown in August last year in Rakhine state, in which the UN investigators say 10,000 people might have been killed.
The group denies it has separatist aims.
The book also seeks to trace the history of the Rohingya — who regard themselves as native to western Myanmar — casting them as interlopers from Bangladesh.
In the introduction to the book, the writer — listed as Lieutenant Colonel Kyaw Kyaw Oo — says the text was compiled using “documentary photographs” with the aim of “revealing the history of Bengalis.”
“It can be found that whenever a political change or an ethnic armed conflict occurred in Myanmar, those Bengalis take it as an opportunity,” the book reads, arguing that Muslims took advantage of the uncertainty of Myanmar’s nascent democratic transition to ignite “religious clashes.”
Reuters was unable to contact Kyaw Kyaw Oo for comment.
Reuters examined some of the photographs using Google Reverse Image Search and TinEye, tools commonly used by news organizations and others to identify images that have previously appeared online. Checks were then made with the previously credited publishers to establish the origins of those images.
Of eight photographs presented as historical images, Reuters found the provenance of three to be faked and was unable to determine the provenance of the five others.
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