AN overwhelming majority of the remaining Rohingya Muslims living in Rakhine State, Burma (Myanmar) have been driven out by violence from Buddhist vigilantes and the Tatmadaw Army a report has claimed, as new satellite imagery depicts the destruction of their depopulated villages.
At least 90 percent of the Rohingya population in Rakhine State have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh, according to data published by local news website The Irrawaddy in a special report last week.
The International Organisation for Migration has recorded some 688,000 people who have fled Rakhine State into Cox’s Bazar since Aug 25 amid so-called “clearing operations” by Burma’s Tatmadaw army. The military stands accused of mass killings, rape and arson in Muslim villages.
The Irrawaddy reported that only 79,000 Rohingya remain in the Rakhine after the latest crisis, having once constituted around one million of the State’s population. The 90 percent figure does not include those “who died, went missing, or were arrested”, it said.
Friday’s story represents a notable shift in The Irrawaddy’s reporting, which has received criticism for disproportionately emphasising displacement and abuse against Buddhists and Hindus, and adopting the term “self-identifying Rohingya” in many of its stories on the Rakhine crisis since last year.
A Daily Beast report from 2017 claimed the magazine was publishing “anti-Rohingya propaganda”.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday claimed that the Burmese government is actively destroying the villages of the displaced. The watchdog released satellite imagery which appeared to depict widespread bulldozing of abandoned Muslim villages in the northern Rakhine.
Some 55 Rohingya villages had been cleared of all structures and vegetation since late 2017, it said, most of which were among the 362 locales targeted by arson since Aug 25.
The villages “should be treated as crime scenes that should be preserved until the UN Fact-Finding Mission is given access to the area to carry out investigations”, HRW said.
The NGO’s Asia director Brad Adams added that “bulldozing these areas threatens to erase both the memory and the legal claims of the Rohingya who lived there.”
Bangladesh and Burma have agreed on a deal to repatriate the refugees, a process supposed to be completed within two years which was recently postponed. The United Nations and rights groups have expressed concern over the plan, however, claiming the situation is as yet unsafe for them in Burma.
“The government’s clearing of dozens of villages only heightens concerns about Rohingya families being able to return home,” Adams said. “Deliberately demolishing villages to destroy evidence of grave crimes is obstruction of justice.”
Earlier this week, three Nobel laureate visited Rohingya refugee camps, with Ireland’s Mairead Maguire stating that: “This is a policy of the Burmese military of genocide, of ethnic cleansing, of the people of Rohingya.”