By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — At least 354 villages in northern Rakhine State have been partially or totally buyrned to the ground since late August, Human Rights Watch said Monday.
Based on an analysis of satellite imagery, the New York-based watchdog said at least 40 villages had been subjected to arson attacks in October and November, well after the office of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi announced the end of “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine on September 5.
At least four villages were destroyed in the week beginning November 25, two days after Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement to repatriate the more than 650,000 refugees who fled across the border in the wake of the security crackdown in August.
“The Burmese army’s destruction of Rohingya villages within days of signing a refugee repatriation agreement with Bangladesh shows that commitments to safe returns were just a public relations stunt,” Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said on Monday.
“The satellite imagery shows what the Burmese army denies: that Rohingya villages continue to be destroyed. Burmese government pledges to ensure the safety of returning Rohingya cannot be taken seriously.”
The United Nations and the government of the United States have labelled the refugee exodus as an act of ethnic cleansing by Myanmar’s military.
The State Counsellor’s office and Myanmar’s armed forces have denied any wrongdoing, instead casting its operations in northern Rakhine as a legitimate counterinsurgency operation in the aftermath of attacks on security posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on August 25.
On November 13, the Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team released a report denying the military had used unlawful force in the August crackdown. The investigation laid blame for the arson attacks on ARSA militants.
Medecins Sans Frontieres said last week it believed at least 6,700 Rohingya civilians were killed in the first month of the violence, based on testimony from survivors in Bangladesh.