Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Satellite images trace human rights abuse in Myanmar


In the "before" shot, from May 2004, the village is there, a cluster of seven roofs near a small lake. In the "after" shot, from February this year, the houses are gone.

Satellite photographs of rural Myanmar released on Friday show what seems to be evidence of human rights abuses gathered from space: villages wiped out, populations relocated and military encampments rising.

The images were released by the Science and Human Rights Program of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, in coordination with the US Campaign for Burma, a group working to end such abuses and bring democracy to Myanmar.

"We want to show the military junta that we are watching from the sky," said Aung Din, the campaign's policy director.

Myanmar's ruling junta is in the middle of a violent crackdown on urban protests that were provoked by price increases and are being led by monks. The release of the pictures was hastened for that reason.

Those pictures show rural provinces that are home to the Karen and Shan tribes, but the director of the project, Lars Bromley, said that it had asked the satellite companies to train their cameras on monasteries, military camps and urban plazas where the demonstrations are known to take place.

Aung Din said that because the junta had apparently cut Internet and telephone connections with the outside world to prevent pictures of the violence from getting out, "we're trying to monitor them via satellite."

The newly released photographs were taken from seven years to a few weeks ago by three commercial satellites that pass over Myanmar about twice a week, at an altitude of about 240km.

They give fairly clear pictures of objects down to about three feet across; roofs, fences and some trees are distinguishable, as are stretches of ground that look burned.

In recent years, a UN report found, 3,000 villages of the Karen and nearby tribes have been destroyed, and more than 500,000 people have been driven from their homes.

Government troops are accused of systematically raping girls and forcing children to join their ranks.

In several images, all or parts of villages are gone. In one, a palm grove that once looked carefully tended appears overgrown.

In others, rows of new buildings have sprung up in refugee camps, or military encampments have expanded and new fences and roads can be seen.

The targets were chosen to corroborate witnesses' reports of attacks or troop movements gathered by advocates from the Free Burma Rangers, the Karen Human Rights Group and the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium, which have representatives in the area.

The science society's human rights project was begun 30 years ago, helping forensic teams sift through mass graves in Argentina.

Recently, it has used satellite photographs to document human rights violations in Darfur and in Zimbabwe.

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