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UNION OF MYANMAR: Scorched-earth campaign fuels ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Rakhine State

20 Sep 2017
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Indigenous people Minority group

-More than 80 sites set ablaze in orchestrated campaign since 25 August
-More than 370,000 Rohingya fled across border in less than three weeks
-Testimonies show attacks were planned, deliberate and systematic

Amnesty International can reveal new evidence pointing to a mass-scale scorched-earth campaign across northern Rakhine State, where Myanmar security forces and vigilante mobs are burning down entire Rohingya villages and shooting people at random as they try to flee.

The organization’s analysis of active fire-detection data, satellite imagery, photographs and videos from the ground, as well as interviews with dozens of eyewitnesses in Myanmar and across the border in Bangladesh, shows how an orchestrated campaign of systematic burnings has targeted Rohingya villages across northern Rakhine State for almost three weeks.

“The Myanmar security forces are setting northern Rakhine State ablaze in a targeted campaign to push the Rohingya people out of Myanmar. Make no mistake: this is ethnic cleansing,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director.

Mass-scale targeted burning

Amnesty International has detected at least 80 large-scale fires in inhabited areas – each measuring at least 375 metres in length – across northern Rakhine State since 25 August, when the Myanmar army launched a military operation following attacks on police posts by the armed group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Satellite imagery during the same month-long period over the past four years showed no fires whatsoever of this magnitude anywhere in the state.

The fires have been detected across large swathes of predominantly Rohingya areas within Rakhine State. While the extent of the damage cannot be independently verified on the ground, due to access restrictions by the Myanmar government, they are likely to have burned down whole villages, forcing tens of thousands to flee in terror. Amnesty International has matched satellite images of the burnings to eyewitness testimony and images of homes being torched.

The true number of fires and extent of property destruction is likely to be much higher, as cloud cover during the monsoon season has made it difficult for satellites to pick up all burnings. Additionally, smaller fires will go undetected by environmental satellite sensors.

Satellite images from the village tract of Inn Din, a mixed ethnic area in south Maungdaw, clearly show how an area of Rohingya homes have been burned to the ground, while non-Rohingya areas alongside them appear to have been left untouched.

Amnesty International spoke to a 27-year-old man from Inn Din who described how on 25 August the army, accompanied by a small group of vigilantes, surrounded the village and fired into the air, before entering and firing at random on Rohingya residents as they were fleeing. He said he hid in a nearby forest and watched as the military stayed for three days in the village, looting and burning homes.

The same has been true of urban areas, as satellite images show how the predominantly Rohingya neighbourhoods in Maungdaw town have been completely torched while other areas of the town remain unscathed.

Systematic and coordinated attacks

As surviving villagers desperately try to leave the area, security forces torch houses using petrol or shoulder-fired rocket launchers.

One 48-year-old man said that he witnessed army and police storm into his village of Yae Twin Kyun in northern Maungdaw township on 8 September: “They used weapons to burn our houses. There used to be 900 houses in our village, now only 80 are left. There is no one left to even bury the bodies.”

A Rohingya man who fled his home in Myo Thu Gyi on 26 August said:

Using satellite-detected fire data, Amnesty International was able to confirm large-scale fires in Myo Thu Gyi in Maungdaw township on 28 August.

Disturbingly, in some areas local authorities appear to have warned local villages in advance that their homes would be burnt, a clear indication that the attacks are both deliberate and planned.

In Kyein Chaung, in Maungdaw township, a 47-year-old man said the 50 soldiers came through the village from two sides and began to shoot at random as people panicked and ran, although there were few options for escape for those who could not swim across the river. The soldiers began targeting men in the group, shooting at close range and stabbing those who had not managed to flee.

One eyewitness from Pan Kyiang village in Rathedaung township described how in the early morning on 4 September the military came with the Village Administrator: “He said by 10am today we had better leave, since everything would be set on fire.” As his family was packing up their belongings he saw what he described as a ‘ball of fire’ hitting his house, at which point they fled in panic.

Myanmar authorities have denied its security forces are responsible for the burnings and have somewhat incredibly claimed that Rohingya have been setting fire to their own homes.

Hundreds of thousands on the run

The United Nations estimates that more than 370,000 people have been forced to flee from Myanmar’s Rakhine State into Bangladesh since 25 August.

Tens of thousands more are likely displaced and on the run inside the state. This is on top of some 87,000 people estimated to have fled in late 2016 and early 2017 during a large-scale military operation in the state.

“In a few days Myanmar will be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council. This is an opportunity for the world to show that it has grasped the scope of the ongoing crisis and adopt a strong resolution to reflect this. The Council must also extend the mandate of the international Fact Finding Mission, which the Myanmar authorities should offer their full cooperation to.”

15 September 2017

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