Myanmar security forces have deliberately burned down around 700 houses at a Muslim village in Rakhine state, one of 17 sites that suffered the same fate, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The massive fire destroyed 99% of the Rohingya Muslim village of Chein Khar Li in Rathedaung township, HRW said on Saturday after analysing the new satellite imagery recorded on August 31.
It said the damage signatures in the imagery were consistent with fire, including the presence of large burn scars and destroyed tree cover.
Since violence erupted last month, nearly 90,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, pressuring scarce resources of aid agencies and communities already helping hundreds of thousands of refugees from previous spasms of violence in Myanmar.
The newest estimate, based on the calculations of UN aid workers in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar, takes to nearly 150,000 the total number of Rohingyas who have sought refuge in Bangladesh since last year’s October, reports Reuters.
The latest spate of violence was set off by a coordinated deadly attack by Rohingya insurgents on August 25 on dozens of police posts and an army base. The ensuing clashes and a major military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people so far.
Myanmar officials have blamed the militants for the burning of homes and civilian deaths in the Rohingya-majority areas, but rights monitors, including the US-based HRW, and Rohingya refugees say a campaign of arson and killings by the country’s army was in effect aiming at forcing them out.
“This new satellite imagery shows the total destruction of a Muslim village, and prompts serious concerns that the level of devastation in northern Rakhine State may be far worse than originally thought,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW.
“Yet this is only one of 17 sites that we’ve located where burnings have taken place. Independent monitors are needed on the ground to urgently uncover what’s going on.”
This new imagery builds on previously published data collected by HRW indicating massive arson at the 17 sites between August 25 and 30.
Satellites initially detected active fires in the early afternoon of August 25 in the village tract of Koe Tan Kauk in Rathedaung, where Chein Khar Li is located.
HRW said their analysis of the large burnt areas seen in the satellite imagery concluded that the fire was deliberately ignited. The scale of the fire destruction suggested that the burnings was done either with significant numbers of people or over a significant period of time, it said.
Although the Myanmar government has blamed the arson on Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants and Rohingya villagers, but it has not provided any evidence to support its claims, said HRW. They also never proved their similar allegations made during the burning of Rohingya areas between October 2016 and December 2016.
HRW added that it and other right monitors have determined that Myanmar security forces deliberately set those fires.
Rohingya refugees who recently fled to Bangladesh have told HRW that Myanmar soldiers and police had burned down their homes and carried out armed attacks on villagers. Many of these refugees had bullet and shrapnel wounds.
HRW said the Myanmar government should immediately grant visas to the three commissioners of the Fact Finding Mission appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
They “should get the full cooperation of the Myanmar government to fulfil their mandate to assess human rights abuses in Rakhine State and explore ways to end attacks and ensure accountability”, said Phil Robertson.