Satellite images of the northern Rakhine state in Myanmar show several empty villages and hamlets have been flattened, with all signs of buildings, farms and trees gone. The images were released to Associated Press by Colorado-based DigitalGlobe on Friday.
They show far more destruction than previously reported in the Rakhine state, which was home to the Rohingya Muslims before widespread violence in August 2017 forced millions of them into exile in Bangladesh.
While the Myanmar government has claimed it is razing the villages to rebuild the region, human rights groups said the government was essentially destroying crime scenes before an investigation can take place, the report said.
The satellite images from DigitalGlobe shows at least 28 villages have been flattened by bulldozers and other machinery in a 50 km radius around Maungdaw between December and February. The images show new buildings, structures and helipads on some of the cleared areas.
A similar analysis by the Human Rights Watch said at least 55 villages have been levelled so far. “There are no more landmarks, no trees, no vegetation,” Richard Weir, a Myanmar expert with Human Rights Watch, told AP. “Everything is wiped away, and this is very concerning because these are crime scenes,” he said.
“There’s been no credible investigation of these crimes. And so, what we’re talking about really is obstruction of justice.”
“Everything is gone, not even the trees are left,” a displaced Rohingya woman told AP after recently visiting Myin Hlut, the village she used live in. Many other Rohingya alleged the government was destroying whatever little is left of their culture to make it impossible for them to return to Myanmar.
Nearly seven lakh Rohingya have fled Rakhine after a militant attack on security forces in August 2017 resulted in a violent crackdown. The refugees have been living in cramped refugee camps in Bangladesh since.
In January, Myanmar and Bangladesh finalised an agreement to send back thousands of Rohingya refugees. The repatriation process was to begin on January 23 and last two years.
However, days later, Bangladesh said it will not start sending back Rohingya Muslim refugees. Officials said several issues remained unresolved with Myanmar and pointed out that the transit camps in Myanmar where refugees will stay were not yet ready.
Many Rohingya AP spoke to said they did not believe any of the newly constructed homes were intended for them.