Sat, Feb 24, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Myanmar demolishes Rohingya villages

UNRECOGNIZABLE:Experts said the extent of the razing would make it extremely hard for the minority, who have no citizenship and few rights, to reclaim their land

AP, BANGKOK

A combination of two satellite images of Myin Hlut, Myanmar, taken on Dec. 20 last year, left, and Feb. 13 shows predominantly Rohingya villages and hamlets completely leveled by authorities.

Photo: DigitalGlobe via AP

First, their villages were burned to the ground. Now, Myanmar’s government is using bulldozers to literally erase them from the Earth — in a vast operation rights groups have said is destroying crucial evidence of mass atrocities against the nation’s ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority.

Satellite images of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, released to the Associated Press by Colorado-based DigitalGlobe yesterday, showed that dozens of empty villages and hamlets have been completely leveled by authorities over the past few weeks — far more than previously reported.

The villages were all set ablaze in the wake of violence in August last year, when a brutal clearance operation by security forces drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into exile in Bangladesh.

While Myanmar’s government has claimed that it is simply trying to rebuild a devastated region, the operation has raised deep concern among human rights advocates, who have said the government is destroying what amounts to scores of crime scenes before any credible investigation takes place.

The operation has also horrified the Rohingya, who believe the government is intentionally eviscerating the dwindling remnants of their culture to make it nearly impossible for them to return.

One displaced Rohingya woman, whose village was among those razed, said she recently visited her former home in Myin Hlut and was shocked by what she saw.

Most houses had been torched last year, but now, “everything is gone, not even the trees are left,” Zubairia said by telephone. “They just bulldozed everything... I could hardly recognize it.”

The 18-year-old said other homes in the same area that had been abandoned, but not damaged, were also flattened.

“All the memories that I had there are gone,” she said. “They’ve been erased.”

Myanmar’s armed forces are accused not just of burning Muslim villages with the help of Buddhist mobs, but of carrying out massacres, rapes and widespread looting.

The latest crisis in Rakhine began in August after Rohingya insurgents launched a series of unprecedented attacks on security posts.

Aerial photographs of leveled villages in northern Rakhine were first made public on Feb. 9, when EU Ambassador to Myanmar Kristian Schmidt posted images taken from an aircraft of what he described as a “vast bulldozed area” south of the town of Maungdaw.

Satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe indicated that at least 28 villages or hamlets were leveled by bulldozers and other machinery in a 50km radius around Maungdaw from December last year to earlier this month; on some of the cleared areas, construction crews had erected new buildings or housing structures and helipads.

An analysis by Human Rights Watch yesterday said at least 55 villages have been affected so far.

The images offer an important window into what is effectively a part of Myanmar that is largely sealed off to the outside world. Myanmar bars independent media access to the state.

The government has spoken of plans to rebuild the region for months, and it has been busily expanding roads, repairing bridges and constructing shelters, including dozens at a large transit camp at Taungpyo, near the Bangladeshi border.

The camp last month opened to house returning refugees; but none have arrived and Rohingya have continued to flee.

One list, published by the government in December, indicated 787 houses would be constructed, most of them for Buddhists or Hindus.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top