‘‘Clean them up! They are just dirty things!’’
Somewhere below, several students tried to make a run for it. Crowds chased them.
Somebody pummeled 14-year-old Abu Bakar across the cheek with a bamboo stick. Somebody else sliced the back of 20-year-old Naeem’s legs with daggers. Yet another clubbed Arif — the teacher who had wept at dinner the night before — to the ground.
Police stood on both sides of the hill watching, unmoved. When a boy sitting with them at the bottom of the slope looked up, an officer slapped his head and shouted: ‘‘Keep your eyes down!’’
A frantic monk waved a multicolored Buddhist flag screaming for the killing to stop. ‘‘This is not the Buddhist way!’’
The crowd backed away briefly, but police left the wounded behind.
One video clip of the moments that followed shows seven Muslim men curled on the ground beneath a grove of rain trees. The faces of at least three are heavily covered in blood. A man in a green jacket swings a bamboo stave down on the wounded with all his might.
The camera pans to another group of three other crumpled men. One is Shafee, who is lying face down, pulling his legs in toward his stomach.
‘‘Oh, you want to fight back?’’ a voice says, laughing.
A grainy video filmed shortly after shows flames leaping from a pile of 12 charred corpses in the same spot, and onlookers backing away from a smoky body rolling down the hill. Another video shows crowds cheering.
Thida could only smell the burning flesh. She hugged the leg of a police officer standing beside her and asked: ‘‘Hey, brother. Please. Please. What is happening to us?’’
‘‘Shut up, woman,’’ the officer replied. ‘‘Keep your head down. Don’t you know you can die here, too?’’
In all the mayhem, several dozen police reinforcements arrived to escort the remaining Muslims to the hilltop and load them onto trucks.
As they pulled away, Koko knew he would never return to Meikhtila.
‘‘There is nothing left of our lives here,’’ he said to himself. ‘‘There is only Allah.’’
The trucks took the traumatized survivors to a police station, where they were offered water, and, by at least one officer, an apology.
In all, about 120 Muslims survived — among them, 90 students and four teachers. They stayed several days at a police station before being bused to another town to join their families.
The dead totaled 32 students and four teachers, according to the headmaster, who cross-checked their deaths with families and witnesses.
The head of state security in the region, Col. Aung Kyaw Moe, who ordered the rescue operation, said ‘‘10 or 15’’ died on the way. But video obtained by the AP, shot by unidentified witnesses touring the area after the killings, contradicts that claim. Two videos alone indicate at least 28 people died, most of them blackened corpses with fists and arms reaching into the air; one is decapitated.
When the people filming pass one body, a voice can be heard saying: ‘‘Hey, is that a child?’’
‘‘No, he’s just short,’’ another replies, chuckling.
The police present that day were the only ones with rifles and guns, which would have been no match for the crude weapons carried by the mobs. But while they rescued more than 100 Muslims, they did not stop the massacre of dozens of others.
‘‘They were of two minds. We could see that,’’ the headmaster said. ‘‘Some of them tried to help us ... but in the end, they all watched us die.’’
Win Htein, the lawmaker, said there were two explanations: Either the ‘‘police didn’t get any order from above (to shoot), or they got the order from above not to do anything.’’
Aung Kyaw Moe, the regional security chief, insisted he had given authorization to fire. But he said police didn’t shoot because ‘‘doing so could have angered the crowds and made the situation even worse.’’
He said even though 200 police were deployed to the area, the crowds outnumbered them, and Muslims died because ‘‘some of them tried to run.’’
‘‘They scattered and our forces could not follow every one of them,’’ he said. ‘‘They had to take care of the rest of the people they were guarding. ... On the front lines, some things cannot be clearly explained.’’
During a tense 50-minute interview, Aung Kyaw Moe said he was ‘‘satisfied’’ with the job police had done.
But he grew increasingly agitated, saying five times that it was ‘‘inappropriate’’ to ask for details because ‘‘you’re not writing a novel, you’re not making a movie ... you don’t need to know.’’
The first people prosecuted for the violence in Meikhtila were not the Buddhist mobs. The first were Muslims.Continued...