NEW YORK – New analysis of satellite imagery from Myanmar’s Rakhine State shows the near total destruction of 214 villages amid the military’s crackdown on Rohingya militants there, Human Rights Watch said today.
The New York-based rights watchdog said the images reveal destruction of tens of thousands of homes across Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships in the northern part of the state, where communal tensions between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have erupted into violence.
It said the images corroborate refugee accounts of arson, killings and looting by the Myanmar security forces and mobs of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, who form a majority in the state, since the military began retaliating for coordinated attacks by carried out by Rohingya militants on security posts on Aug. 25.
The latest round of violence in Rakhine has forced an estimated 415,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
“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.
The group called the actions part of a “campaign of ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya and said that world leaders meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week “should act to end this mounting crisis and show Burma’s military leaders they will pay a price for such atrocities.”
The Myanmar military has denied accounts of widespread abuses and alleges that Rohingya militants and villagers have burned down their own homes.
Earlier Tuesday, Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said in a speech in Naypyitaw, the country’s capital, that the “great majority” of Rakhine’s Muslims remain in the state and more than half of their villages remain intact.
She also suggested that many allegations of atrocities being committed against them remain unsubstantiated.
“There have been allegations and counterallegations, and we have to listen to all of them,” she said. “We want to find out what the real problems are.”
Robertson said that even while Suu Kyi may not have the power or authority to rein in the military, she should speak out and also ensure that a U.N. fact-finding mission is able to enter Myanmar.
“Concerned governments should not wait for her to act. They should impose targeted sanctions on those most responsible for the terrible atrocities taking place,” he said.