ROHINGYA Muslim villages in Rakhine State are being bulldozed and replaced by military bases, roads and heavily guarded refugee reception centres, according to a new report released by human rights group Amnesty International.
Satellite imagery released by Amnesty on Monday as part of its Remaking Rakhine State report suggests that abandoned Muslim villages are rapidly being cleared and replaced by government infrastructure, with the region becoming “militarised at an alarming pace”.
Rakhine State remains among the poorest in Burma (Myanmar) and the government of Aung San Suu Kyi has pledged to invest in rebuilding the region after “clearing operations” by the Tatmadaw army devastated scores of Rohingya villages, leaving them deserted.
Nevertheless, Amnesty’s report suggests that rebuilding and development in the Rakhine will be at the expense of refugees.
In Kan Kya village, for example – burned down between August and November last year – homes and at least two mosques were demolished to make way for a new security force base.
Reuters reported last October that Burmese officials were planning to sell thousands of acres left behind by Rohingya and would resettle returnees in “model villages” rather than their original homes. The latest satellite images suggest that this process is underway.
“What we are seeing in Rakhine State is a land grab by the military on a dramatic scale,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director. “New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya.”
Burmese security forces stand accused of mass rape, killings and arson against civilians in scores of Muslim villages in the wake of an attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on military and police outposts on Aug 25, 2017.
It has since seen more than 650,000 refugees flee into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – one of the fastest mass migrations in recent history.
Many in the international community have condemned the violence, suggesting it could constitute ethnic cleansing or even genocide. Amnesty has accused Burma of crimes against humanity.
Exodus of refugees across the border into Bangladesh has continued into 2018. Amnesty said that authorities were also destroying villages not burnt but “deserted by inhabitants fleeing killings, starvation and the threat of further violence”.
“People are in a panic,” one refugee in Bangladesh, who fled his village in January, told the rights watchdog. “No one wants to stay because they are afraid of more violence against them.”
The UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour last week said that “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya was continuing in Rakhine State through a “campaign of terror and forced starvation” intending to drive the remaining Rohingya population into Bangladesh.
Amnesty’s findings also reflect a recent Human Rights Watch report which showed at least 55 Rohingya villages had been cleared of all structures and vegetation since late 2017.
“This makes the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees an even more distant prospect,” said Hassan. “Not only are their homes gone, but the new construction is entrenching the already dehumanising discrimination they have faced in Myanmar.”