MNA Exclusive Desk: Myanmar has bulldozed at least 55 villages that were emptied of their Rohingya Muslim inhabitants during violence that began last year, Human Rights Watch said on Friday citing a review of new satellite imagery.
The group said the demolitions in the northern part of Rakhine State could have destroyed evidence of atrocities by troops who swept through villages after Rohingya insurgents attacked 30 police posts and an army base on Aug 25.
The military response to the August attacks pushed 688,000 people across the border into Bangladesh, many of them recounting killings, rape and arson by Myanmar soldiers and police.
The findings by the New York-based rights group were published after Myanmar struck a deal on aid to the region with the United Nations and Japan, marking a shift in strained relations between government and the United Nations.
The United Nations and the United States have called the crackdown on the Rohingya ethnic cleansing, but the government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has blocked UN investigators and other independent monitors from the conflict zone.
Myanmar says its forces have been engaged in a legitimate campaign against Muslim “terrorists”.
Human Rights Watch said a total of 362 villages had been partially or completely destroyed since August. Since late last year, some of those villages – and at least two previously intact settlements – had been flattened, it said.
“Many of these villages were scenes of atrocities against Rohingya and should be preserved so that the experts appointed by the UN to document these abuses can properly evaluate the evidence to identify those responsible,” said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director.
“Bulldozing these areas threatens to erase both the memory and the legal claims of the Rohingya who lived there.”
Human Rights Watch said a series of images taken from satellites showed that two villages in the area called Myin Hlut were not damaged by fire and were “likely inhabitable” before they were “destroyed and smoothed over by heavy machinery” between Jan 9 and Feb 13.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay was not immediately available for comment, reported news agency.