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HRW: Rohingya villages razed despite denials

November 21, 2016

Satellite images show fire and destruction in northwest Myanmar, home to the Muslim Rohingya minority, Human Rights Watch says. Journalist and aid agencies face severe restrictions while trying to verify the reports.

Myanmar Konfikte in Rakhine Region
Image: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

Some 1,250 buildings have been destroyed in Myanmar military's crackdown on the Rohingya, activists from Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday, citing satellite images of villages near the Bangladeshi border.

Previously, the Myanmar government said that fewer that 300 houses had been razed by militants aiming to "sow a seed of misunderstanding between the government troops and the people."

HRW's Asia director Brad Adams called the new satellite images "alarming." Satellite sensors also detected fires burning in several villages.

"The apparent arson attacks against five Rohingya villages is a matter of grave concern for which the Burmese government needs to investigate and prosecute those responsible," he added.

Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims make up most of the population in the region of Rakhine, but they are denied citizenship and other basic rights, with many of the country's majority Buddhists regarding them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

New leader under pressure

The violence first flared up after unknown gunmen attacked three police outposts on October 9, leaving three officers dead in the border area. The government in Naypyidaw blamed a Rohingya group for the incident.

At least 70 people were killed and 400 arrested in the ensuing crackdown, although activists claim the actual number could be far higher. At least 30,000 have been displaced. Witnesses and alleged victims also accused soldiers of widespread rape.

Myanmar is currently ruled by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, following decades of military rule. Many observers now question the ability of her six-month-old administration to control the army, which still holds ministries responsible for security.

No access for observers

The government has accused activists of exaggerating the scale of the violence. At the same time, international observers, journalists and aid agencies face severe restrictions of movement while trying to verify the claims in the area.

"On November 15, a government spokesperson suggested that Human Rights Watch was part of a ‘conspiracy' to harm Burma's image," Adams said on Monday.

"Instead of responding with military-era style accusations and denials, the government should simply look at the facts and take action to protect all people in Burma, whatever their religion or ethnicity," he added, using the alternative name under which the country is known.

"A government with nothing to hide should have no problem granting access to journalists and human rights investigators.”

dj/tj (AFP, dpa)