High-definition satellite imagery has revealed widespread destruction by fire in an ethnic Muslim-majority state under an army siege in Myanmar, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The eastern Rakhine State is mainly populated by Muslim Rohingyas, who have long been subjected to government persecution and deliberate negligence.
From an analysis of images taken on October 22, November 3, and November 10, 2016, HRW identified a total of 430 destroyed buildings in the three villages of Pyaung Pyit (Ngar Sar Kyu), Kyet Yoe Pyin, and Wa Peik (Kyee Kan Pyin) in the northern Maungdaw district of Rakhine.
“New satellite images not only confirm the widespread destruction of Rohingya villages but show that it was even greater than we first thought,” Brad Adams, the Asia director at HRW, said on Sunday.
Rakhine has been under tight military lockdown since deadly raids on border posts last month, which the government blamed on the Rohingyas. The lockdown has raised strong speculations that the army is now involved in raids against the ethnic Muslims, who were already being targeted by extremist Buddhists in the country. The Buddhists routinely attacked Muslim villages, torching houses and destroying property.
Meanwhile, state media said on Sunday that eight people had died and 36 been arrested in fresh clashes between the soldiers and what the government claimed to be Rohingya “militants.”
The army started its recent crackdown in Rakhine in mid-October after unidentified assailants launched coordinated attacks on several border posts.
The military has blocked access to Rakhine and banned journalists and aid workers from entering the zone.
There have been numerous accounts by eyewitnesses of summary executions, rapes and arson attacks against houses by security forces.
The government and the army have rejected the accusations, saying they have simply been conducting a “clearance operation” in the region.
Hundreds of Muslims were killed and many were forced to flee ethnic clashes in 2012.
The 1.1 million-strong Rohingya population in Myanmar has been deprived of citizenship by the government.