Satellite photos show fires are still burning at Rohingya villages in Myanmar, Amnesty says
Rights group Amnesty International has accused the military of starting fires in Myanmar’s Rakhine state to prevent Rohingya Muslim refugees from returning, citing new satellite images as evidence of the ongoing destruction.
At the same time, the country’s army chief blamed Rohingya militants for an explosion outside a mosque.
The unrest comes days after Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi declared that troops had ceased “clearance operations” in the border area that have forced more than 430,000 Rohingya refugees to flee for Bangladesh in under a month.
The army says it is targeting Rohingya militants who attacked police posts on August 25. But its operation has been so sweeping and brutal that the UN said it probably amounts to “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya Muslim minority, a group reviled by many in the mainly Buddhist country.
On Saturday, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing posted a statement on Facebook saying Rohingya militants planted a “home-made mine” that exploded in between a mosque and madrassa in northern Rakhine’s Buthidaung township on Friday.
The army chief accused the militants of trying to drive out around 700 hundred villagers who have remained in Mi Chaung Zay – an argument analysts have said makes little sense for a group that depends on the support of networks it has built across Rohingya communities.
“As our villagers did not want to leave their homes, the terrorists blew up the bomb during the prayer time as a way of terrorising the villagers,” the army chief’s statement said.
“It is the act of ARSA terrorist group,” it said, using an acronym for the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – the Rohingya militant group that raided police posts in August, triggering the military backlash. No one was reported injured in the explosion.
The unrest has also displaced tens of thousands of Buddhists and Hindus. But officials in Bangladesh said on Saturday that the influx was over.
Border guards said they have seen no boats carrying Rohingya on the Naf river, which marks the Myanmar border, or in the Bay of Bengal for at least three days. Arrivals across the land frontier have almost stopped.
“Our guards have not seen any Rohingya coming in the past few days. The wave is over,” Border Guard Bangladesh commander S.M. Ariful Islam said.
Rights groups say there is overwhelming evidence that the army is using its crackdown on militants to systematically purge the 1.1-million strong stateless Rohingya from its borders.
On Friday, Amnesty International said new videos and satellite imagery confirmed that fires were still ripping through Rohingya villages, scores of which have already been burned to the ground.
“Not satisfied with simply forcing Rohingya from their homes, authorities seem intent on ensuring they have no homes to return to,” said Tirana Hasan from Amnesty.
According to government figures, nearly 40 per cent of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine have been completely abandoned over the past month.
Many of those who stayed behind are now living in isolated Muslim communities, gripped by fear and cut off from crucial aid, according to the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, UNOCHA.
“Following continuous threats from local Rakhine people to leave, many of these vulnerable people are so terrified that they are calling the government, the UN and others asking for additional measures to protect them,” UNOCHA said in its latest update.
Human Rights Watch on Saturday echoed allegations from Bangladeshi officials that Myanmar security forces were laying landmines along the border, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have crossed in the largest mass refugee movement in recent decades.
“The dangers faced by thousands of Rohingya fleeing atrocities in [Myanmar] are deadly enough without adding landmines to the mix,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s South Asia director.
“The Burmese military needs to stop using these banned weapons, which kill and maim without distinction.”