Myanmar Bulldozes Rohingya Villages, Destroying Evidence of Mass Atrocities

Myanmar Bulldozes Rohingya Villages, Destroying Evidence of Mass Atrocities

Friday, 23 February, 2018 - 10:45
This Feb. 13, 2018, satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe, shows the village of Myin Hlut, 25 kilometres southeast of Maungdaw, Rakhine state, Myanmar. (DigitalGlobe via AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
First, their villages were burned to the ground. Now, Myanmar's government is using bulldozers to literally erase them from the earth — in a vast operation rights groups say is destroying crucial evidence of mass atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the northern Rakhine state.

Satellite images of the troubled state, released to The Associated Press by Colorado-based DigitalGlobe on Friday, show that dozens of empty villages and hamlets have been completely leveled by authorities in recent weeks — far more than previously reported. The villages were all set ablaze in the wake of violence last August, when a brutal clearance operation by security forces drove some 700,000 of Rohingya into exile in Bangladesh.

While Myanmar's government claims it's simply trying to rebuild a devastated region, the operation has raised deep concern among human rights advocates, who say the government is destroying what amounts to scores of crime scenes before any credible investigation takes place. The operation has also horrified the Rohingya, who believe the government is intentionally eviscerating the dwindling remnants of their culture to make it nearly impossible for them to return.

One displaced Rohingya woman, whose village was among those razed, said she recently visited her former home in Myin Hlut and was shocked by what she saw. Most houses had been torched last year, but now, "everything is gone, not even the trees are left," the woman, named Zubairia, told AP by telephone.

"They just bulldozed everything ... I could hardly recognize it."

The 18-year-old said other homes in the same area that had been abandoned but not damaged were also flattened. "All the memories that I had there are gone," she said. "They've been erased."

Satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe indicates at least 28 villages or hamlets were leveled by bulldozers and other machinery in a 30-mile (50-kilometer) radius around Maungdaw between December and February; on some of the cleared areas, construction crews had erected new buildings or housing structures and helipads. A similar analysis by Human Rights Watch on Friday said at least 55 villages have been affected so far.

At least two of the flattened villages were previously undamaged by fires, the watchdog said.

"Many of these villages were scenes of atrocities against Rohingya and should be preserved so that the experts appointed by the UN to document these abuses can properly evaluate the evidence to identify those responsible," said HRW's Asia director Brad Adams.

"Bulldozing these areas threatens to erase both the memory and the legal claims of the Rohingya who lived there," he added.

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