Myanmar government has razed dozens of Rohingya villages, satellite images show

Cyclone season and threat of violence loom over 720000 Rohingya children in Myanmar and Bangladesh - UNICEF

An worldwide rights group on Friday issued new satellite images showing the Myanmar government's demolition of dozens of deserted Rohingya Muslim villages in northern Rakhine state in recent months, charges that Myanmar officials insist was part of reconstruction work. Hundreds of buildings have been demolished in 10 other villages partially destroyed by arson.

"They want to make it hard to find graves, weapons used or any other evidence that would connect the crime scene to the criminals", Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, told DW.

"Bulldozing these areas threatens to erase both the memory and the legal claims of the Rohingya who lived there", he said. Human Rights Watch reported.

The group analysed a series of satellite images recorded between 11 November 2017, and 19 February 2018.

"I have been hearing about bulldozing the villages since the beginning of January", he said, adding: "There were many houses, mosques and Islamic schools which remained intact in". A similar analysis by Human Rights Watch on Friday said at least 55 villages have been affected so far. The imagery suggests the demolitions are ongoing.

Aerial photographs of levelled villages in northern Rakhine State were first made public February 9 when the European Union's 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. This was followed by a pause of approximately one month.

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"The government's clearing of dozens of villages only heightens concerns about Rohingya families being able to return home", Adams said.

Rohingya people who were forced into exile also fear the operation is aimed at preventing them from returning to their villages and at destroying the remnants of their cultural heritage.

Rohingya refugees carry their child as they walk through water after crossing the border by boat through the Naf River in Teknaf, Bangladesh, Sept 7, 2017. The governments of Burma and Bangladesh have concluded several agreements that outline the intention and process by which refugees in Bangladesh could be returned to Burma.

The Rohingya, described by the United Nations as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012. "Conditions are not yet conducive to the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees", Grandi told members of the Security Council. As satellite photographs show, a return home might be simply impossible.

Adams said Friday the bulldozing operation apparently underway there is tantamount to a cover-up destroying dozens of crime scenes. In a report, United Nations investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.

UNICEF calls on the Myanmar Government to end the violence, and to address what it terms a crisis of human rights in Rakhine State, referring to restrictions on Rohingya people's freedom of movement, extremely limited access to health care, education and livelihoods, and consequent dependence on humanitarian support.

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