Tue, Mar 13, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Security structures built on burnt Rohingya land

NEW BASE?A Burmese government spokesman said military forces would not be based in residential areas, but that police stations are part of reconstruction plans

AFP, YANGON, Myanmar

Two satellite images of Pa Da Kar Ywar Thit village in Myanmar taken on Sept. 6 last year, left, and on Feb. 5, right, show new structures and helipads built on former agricultural fields.

Photo: Amnesty International / DigitalGlobe

Myanmar is building security installations on top of razed Rohingya villages, Amnesty International said yesterday, casting doubt on the nation’s plans to repatriate hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh since Myanmar launched a brutal crackdown on insurgents six months ago that the US and UN have called ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar rejects that accusation, saying it was responding to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in August last year, but critics accuse the military of using the insurgent attacks to launch disproportionate, scorched-earth “clearance operations” as a pretext to push out the loathed minority.

The new Amnesty report, Remaking Rakhine State, uses satellite imagery and interviews to point to a rapid increase in military infrastructure and other construction since the start of the year that researchers say amounts to a “land grab.”

“The new evidence and the rebuilding that Amnesty has documented in our latest research shows that the Myanmar authorities are building over the top of the very places the Rohingya need to return to,” Amnesty crisis response director Tirana Hassan said ahead of the report’s release. “In some instances there has been the destruction of existing homes.”

Although the images only paint a partial picture, the rights group says structures for security forces, helipads and even roads have been built in and around torched Rohingya properties.

Satellite imagery of Kan Kya village on the outskirts of Rakhine’s Maungdaw taken two months after the August attacks shows a settlement scarred by fire.

However, by early this month, buildings could be seen on the revamped land. Amnesty believes they are part of a new base for security forces.

Similar building activity was also detected in Inn Din village, where Myanmar has said that its security forces took part in the killings of 10 Rohingya residents in September last year.

Rakhine has been largely sealed off from rights groups, the media and UN investigators.

Myanmar and Bangladesh were supposed to start repatriating Rohingya refugees in late January, but many are reluctant to return to a place without guarantees of basic rights and safety.

The report also highlights concerns that abandoned Rohingya land would be set aside for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and other non-Muslim groups in the area, and that alterations to the landscape would erase evidence of alleged atrocities by the military.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay rejected the claims, saying the government was not basing military forces in residential areas, but that police stations were part of village construction plans.

“It’s not true that we are deploying the military among houses and among villages,” he said, adding that bulldozing is necessary to work on burned land.

“As this region is behind in development, we are rebuilding systematically,” he added.

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