Dhaka – Satellite imagery from Burma’s Rakhine state shows a total of 214 Rohingya villages were burnt to the ground forcing hundreds of thousands of minority Muslims to cross into Bangladesh fleeing violence at home.
New York-based Human Rights watch released analysis of the latest satellite images on Tuesday urging world leaders meeting in New York to urgently adopt a resolution condemning the ethnic cleansing by Myanmar army.
The Security Council should impose targeted sanction and an arm embargo on Myanmar, the rights watchdog said in a statement.
The new imagery was released at a time when Burmese de factor leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a televised address urged diplomats to visit parts of Rakhine state were most of the homes are intact.
She also said it was not understood why the exodus happened in Rakhine state as she needs to talk to those who fled and who were still at home to understand the situation.
HRW said the detailed satellite images, made possible due to a clearing of monsoon cloud on September 16, 2017, reveal destruction from burning much greater than previously known.
They show the destruction of tens of thousands of homes across Maungdaw and Rathedaung Townships, part of the Burmese security forces’ campaign of ethnic cleansing.
“These images provide shocking evidence of massive destruction in an apparent attempt by Burmese security forces to prevent the Rohingya from returning to their villages,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“World leaders meeting at the UN should act to end this mounting crisis and show Burma’s military leaders they will pay a price for such atrocities.”
New maps of the damage show near-total destruction of the 214 villages seen in satellite imagery analyzed by HRW, with more than 90 percent of the structures in each village damaged.
The images corroborate accounts gathered by HRW from refugees who have described arson, killing, and looting by the Burmese military, police, and ethnic Rakhine mobs.
The Burmese military has rejected credible accounts of widespread abuses and said it is conducting operations against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a suspected militant group that attacked about 30 police posts and an army base on August 25, 2017.
A dozen members of the security forces were killed and in response the military launched the crackdown forcing the civilians to leave their homes and killed many of them.
The scale, scope, and timing of the burnings, many of which occurred after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya had already fled, is inconsistent with army’s claim that Rohingya Muslims set their homes to fire.
Burmese army commander Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing recently linked Rohingya demands to be recognized as an ethnic group under Burmese law with the army’s actions.
Using “Bengali,” a Burmese ethnic slur for Rohingya, he stated in a Facebook post that, “They have demanded recognition as Rohingya, which has never been an ethnic group in Myanmar. [The] Bengali issue is a national cause and we need to be united in establishing the truth.”
On September 15, the Burmese Government Information Committee stated that, “Those who fled the villages made their way to the other country for fear of being arrested as they got involved in the violent attacks” – implying that the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who fled to Burma were responsible for militant attacks against the government.