More than 800 newly identified Rohingya houses have been destroyed in Myanmar's Rakhine state, according to new satellite images released by Human Rights Watch yesterday.
The latest images bring the total number of razed buildings documented by the HRW through satellite imagery to 1,250.
The rights watchdog, in the face of Myanmar government's denial, further said the new satellite imagery of Rakhine shows 820 newly destroyed structures in five ethnic Rohingya villages in Maungdaw district. The photographs were taken on November 10, 17, and 18.
This latest damage is in addition to the 430 destroyed buildings the HRW identified from satellite imagery taken on November 13.
Of the 820 demolished buildings, 255 were in the village of Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, 265 in Dar Gyi Zar, 65 in Pwint Hpyu Chaung, 15 in Myaw Taung, and 220 in Wa Peik (in addition to the 100 which were destroyed earlier in the village).
The new imagery shows village destruction that far exceeds the figures released by the Burmese government, an HRW report said yesterday.
“These alarming new satellite images confirm that the destruction in Rohingya villages is far greater and in more places than the government has admitted,” said HRW's Asia director Brad Adams.
“The apparent arson attack against five Rohingya villages is a matter of grave concern for which the Burmese government needs to investigate and prosecute those responsible. UN participation is crucial for such an investigation to be credible,” he added.
According to the UN, more than 30,000 people have been displaced by the ensuing violence, half of them over a two-day period when dozens died after the military brought in helicopter gunships.
Hundreds of Rohingyas, who have long been persecuted by the state, have tried to flee the violence to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Myanmar's new administration, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, dismissed the allegations as part of a misinformation campaign planted by “terrorists”.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, at a November 17 UN Security Council meeting on the deteriorating situation in Rakhine state, called for international observers to be allowed to investigate and for aid groups to have their access restored.
After a short visit by diplomats to the area, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on Burma, said on Friday, “The security forces must not be given carte blanche to step up their operations under the smokescreen of having allowed access to an international delegation. Urgent action is needed to bring resolution to the situation.”
The HRW also reviewed thermal anomaly data collected by environmental satellite sensors that detected the presence of multiple active fires burning in the village of Pwint Hpyu Chaung on November 12, in Dar Gyi Zar on November 13, and in Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son on November 13, 14, and 15.
Dense tree cover might have concealed a limited number of additional buildings that were knocked down, making it possible that the actual number is higher.
The Myanmar's military on November 15 reported that militants burned down 60 homes in Dar Gyi Sar, while the state counsellor office's newly created “Information Committee” reported on November 16 that only 30 buildings were demolished in the same town.
But the new imagery shows that 265 buildings have been razed in Dar Gyi Zar alone, the rights watchdog said.
Both the military and the Information Committee reported that 105 buildings were knocked down in Wa Peik village. However, satellite imagery collected by the HRW between November 10 and 17 shows that an additional 220 buildings were destroyed.
This newly documented destruction, coupled with the 100 buildings razed between October 9 and November 3 as determined by the HRW, brings the total to 320 buildings destroyed in Wa Peik village.