Satellite Images Show Mass Destruction in Western Burma
By Jack Phillips On October 29, 2012 @ 1:36 am In Asia Pacific | No Comments
Recent communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in western Burma’s Rakhine (also called Arakan) State has forced the displacement of tens of thousands; it has also reduced entire communities to ashes, according to satellite imagery published by a New York-based rights group.
Since the violence renewed last week, the Burmese government said that 2,800 houses were burned down and 112 people were left dead, but Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the government is likely underestimating the numbers to avoid criticism (as it has done in the past) and cites reports from witnesses in Rakhine State.
The satellite imagery posted on the group’s website shows mass destruction of homes in the Rohingya Muslim area of Kyauk Pyu where some 811 structures were burned down. Arson of the homes was carried out on Oct. 24.
HRW warns that the violence will likely get even worse in the coming days unless the Burmese government steps up security in the region. A similar statement was made by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday.
“Burma’s government urgently needs to provide security for the Rohingya in Arakan State, who are under vicious attack,” stated Phil Robertson of HRW. “Unless the authorities also start addressing the root causes of the violence, it is only likely to get worse.”
Ashok Nigam, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator, told the Daily Telegraph Sunday that government estimates show that 22,587 people were displaced in last week’s clashes and around 4,665 houses were burned down.
“These are people whose houses have been burnt, they are still in the same locality,” he said, adding, “It is mainly the Muslims who have been displaced.”
Around 75,000 people, of whom most are Rohingya, have already fled the area and have been living in camps since the violence broke out in June after a Buddhist woman was raped by Rohingya Muslim men in late May, according to HRW.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have also crossed the border into Bangladesh, living in refugee camps.
Human Rights Watch said that Burmese security forces exacerbated the violence. The group has documented Burmese security forces involvement in extrajudicial killings, rapes, and mass arrests of Rohingya Muslims. It estimates that around 104,000 people are in “dire need” of food, medical care, shelter, and other humanitarian needs.
“Deploying sufficient security forces to restore order impartially and protect basic rights in Arakan State is necessary, but not enough,” said Robertson. “Burmese government officials and opposition leaders need to condemn the violence and work for lasting solutions to Arakan’s ethnic problems.”
In the past year and a half, Burma has embarked on a shaky path of reform after decades of military junta-led rule. The government has released hundreds of political prisoners, lifted its censorship on media, and allowed opposition lawmakers to run in parliamentary elections, but in several regions, including Kachin State, armed conflicts continue.
Western countries, including the United States, have lifted sanctions on the once-isolated country, giving it the opportunity to continue opening up to the world economically and politically; however, the recent outbreak of violence highlights the unresolved and divisive social tensions that hold the country back.
The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said that Burma needs to place human rights at the forefront while it is trying to reform itself.
“Human rights considerations need to shape the process of economic growth, legislative reform, and institutional change, while also guiding responses to ongoing serious human rights situations, including in Rakhine and Kachin states,” he said, according to a release.
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