Dhaka, September 15: The Myanmar military is deliberately burning ethnic Rohingya villages near the Bangladesh border, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday.
“Such acts of arson, after forcing residents to leave their villages, appear central to the Burmese military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya Muslim population in Burma’s Rakhine State,” the rights body said in a statement.
It released new satellite imagery and sensory data showing that 62 villages in northern Rakhine State were targeted by arson attacks between August 25 and September 14.
The HRW identified 35 of these villages with extensive building destruction from very high resolution satellite imagery, and an additional 26 villages that had active fires detected in near-real time with environmental satellite sensors.
“Our field research backs what the satellite imagery has indicated – that the Burmese military is directly responsible for the mass burning of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State,” said Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director.
He observed that the United Nations and member countries should urgently impose measures on the Burmese government to stop these atrocities and end the forced flight of Rohingya from Myanmar.
The HRW conducted a detailed building damage assessment in six of the 35 affected villages and identified nearly complete destruction in each case. The total number of destroyed buildings was 948.
On the morning of September 13, Human Rights Watch observed from Bangladesh large plumes of thick, black smoke from the Rohingya border village of Taung Pyo Let Yar in Maungdaw township.
Village residents stranded at the border described the vehicles as “military trucks” that had previously entered the village. Three villagers who observed the fires from the hill said the smoke came from fires set in village buildings.
Fatima, 50, who had fled Taung Pyo Let Yar, told Human Rights Watch that after she saw smoke rise from the village, she climbed a hill to see if her home was on fire. When she reached the top, she saw her home engulfed by a column of smoke. Other nearby homes were also burning. She said she had fled on August 31 when trucks carrying Burmese soldiers arrived in the village. The soldiers jumped out of the trucks carrying guns, frightening her, so she ran several hundred meters into the “no-man’s land” at the Bangladeshi border. “When we see the army we just ran away from the village – hundreds ran,” Fatima said, adding: “We just brought our children.”
The statement said satellite detection of multiple active fires on September 11 and 13 suggest that villages in new areas of Maungdaw township are now being targeted for destruction.
Because of heavy cloud cover, it is almost certain that the actual number of fire-affected villages in the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung is considerably higher.
The statement said UN Secretary-General António Guterres and human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein have indicated that the Burmese military’s actions amount to ethnic cleansing. “Burmese government statements seemingly support these conclusions. Zaw Htay, a Burmese government spokesman, told the media that of 471 villages targeted in “clearance operations” by the military, 176 are now empty and at least 34 others partially abandoned.”