Satellite imagery shows widespread fires in northern Rakhine


YANGON — Satellite data from northern Rakhine State shows widespread burnings in areas close to the most recent outbreak of violence, according to Human Rights Watch.

In a statement published Tuesday, the New York-based organisation said that the imagery shows initial fires on the afternoon of August 25 in the village tracts of Zay Di Pyin and Koe Tan Kauk in Rathedaung. Imagery from three days later shows fires in eight locations in Maungdaw, including in the centre of Maungdaw town.

The most recent bout of violence came after militants from the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army launched a series of attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine on the night of August 24. At least 100 people have been killed and thousands displaced, including Rakhine and Muslims.

Human Rights Watch said additional fires in the area may not have been detected due to heavy clouds during monsoon and limitations in the satellite sensors.

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“This new satellite data should cause concern and prompt action by donors and UN agencies to urge the Burmese government to reveal the extent of ongoing destruction in Rakhine State,” said Mr Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for HRW.

“Shuffling all the blame on insurgents doesn’t spare the Burmese government from its international obligations to stop abuses and investigate alleged violations.”

The statement added it was not possible to determine the cause of the fires, but noted that the information “bears a close resemblance to that found during widespread arson attacks in Rakhine State during violence against the Rohingya in 2012 and 2016”.

In the aftermath of the initial ARSA attacks in October last year, Human Rights Watch released data showing at least 1,500 homes and said the “pattern of burnings over time suggest government responsibility for the destruction”.

While local residents have accused security forces of setting fire to homes during “clearance operations”, the government and military have said Muslim villagers have set fire to their own homes to elicit international sympathy for their plight.

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