By Bangkok Post
YANGON – Myanmar’s Rakhine state was hit by fresh waves of violence over the weekend with more than 30 “insurgents” killed during two days of fighting, the military said, as proof emerged of atrocities against villagers.
Soldiers have killed scores and arrested many more in their hunt for the attackers, who the government claims are radicalised Rohingya militants with links to overseas Islamists it has not named.
Also during the weekend, strong evidence emerged in the form of satellite photos that Myanmar security forces are literally using scorched-earth tactics, burning entire villages to the ground in the escalated anti-Rohingya campaign.
The photos, released by Human Rights Watch, are before-and-after views of three villages in embattled Maungdaw district.
The claims of a previously unknown Rohingya crisis, along with credible reports of grave rights abuses by the security forces have piled international pressure on Myanmar’s new civilian government.
There now are questions about the ability of the government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi to control the military. The leader has not been heard from in days, and criticism has mounted at her refusal to speak out for protecting the Rohingya – whom she calls Bengalis.
The satellite photos appear to show that entire villages in Maungdaw have been put to the torch recently, with 430 buildings, mostly homes and farm buildings, destroyed.
Photo analysts say the buildings seem to have been burnt to the ground. This has raised suspicions that the army and police have launched campaigns against entire Rohingya villages.
The latest images were taken on Nov 10 and were released Sunday.
Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, said the new photos showed “widespread destruction” that was “greater than we first thought”.
“Burmese authorities should promptly establish a UN-assisted investigation as a first step toward ensuring justice and security for the victims,” he said in a statement.
The military and government have rejected allegations that troops have burned Rohingya villages. They have accused “insurgents” of lighting the fires and burning their own villages.
HRW says it identified 430 buildings, mostly homes and farm buildings, destroyed in three villages of Maungdaw district in Rakhine state, all of them likely burnt to the ground.
The first set of photos below shows before-and-after satellite views of Kyet Yoe Pyin, where photos show 245 buildings destroyed.
The state has sizzled with religious tension ever since waves of violence between the majority Buddhist population and the Muslim Rohingya left more than 200 dead in 2012.
More than 100,000 people, mostly Rohingya, were pushed into displacement camps by the bloodshed and have languished there ever since.
Rights groups say they face apartheid-like restrictions on movement and have repeatedly called on Suu Kyi to carve out a solution.
But Buddhist nationalists at home viciously oppose any move to grant them citizenship, claiming the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh despite their long roots in the country.
Days of apparent calm were shattered on Saturday when the army said six attackers and two soldiers were killed during a series of coordinated ambushes that were only beaten back with the help of helicopter gunships.
The toll then jumped on Sunday following further clashes.
In a statement late Sunday, Myanmar’s military said 22 attackers armed with swords were killed near Dar Gyi Zar village on Sunday morning after they charged at soldiers.
Six other insurgents were killed during clashes elsewhere in the state on Sunday, the statement added.
Authorities have heavily restricted access to the area, making it difficult to independently verify government reports or accusations of army abuse.
On Saturday evening, Rohingya activists uploaded a graphic video showing the corpses of eight people dressed in civilian clothes, including a small baby.
The video’s shooter, speaking in Rohingya, said the victims died that day near Dar Gyi Zar village, with some showing bullet wounds.
We will not re-publish that image, which in any case cannot be verified.
But the Rohingyablogger.com website released these photos during the weekend. They reportedly show burning homes in Pwint Phyu Chaung village of Maungdaw district, the same area where the satellite photos were taken, and women and children refugees fleeing the violence, with almost no possessions.
The resurgence of violence in western Rakhine has deepened and complicated a crisis that already posed a critical challenge to the new administration led by Ms Suu Kyi.
Activists have launched a petition at Change.org calling on the Nobel Peace Prize committee to recall her prize, awarded in 1991 for opposing military regimes.