BANGKOK – Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Monday the burning of 40 more Rohingya villages in western Myanmar in a military campaign, which has led more than 655,000 people of this Muslim minority community to flee to Bangladesh.
HRW used satellite images to identify the new incidents, recorded between October and November, raising the total number of villages completely or partially razed to 354 since the beginning of the military offensive on Aug. 25.
In a statement, HRW said that some of the cases detected occurred the same week that the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a memorandum on Nov. 23, to begin the repatriation of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have crossed the border.
HRW Asia director, Brad Adams, said the continued destruction of Rohingya villages shows that the commitment signed to ensure safe return of refugees is merely a public relations stunt.
“The satellite imagery shows what the Myanmar army denies: that Rohingya villages continue to be destroyed. The Myanmar government pledges to ensure the safety of returning Rohingya cannot be taken seriously,” Adams said.
The organization accused the Myanmar army of committing murders and rapes, among other abuses, during the military operation that began after several armed assaults by a poorly armed Rohingya insurgent group against security forces, which left 11 Myanmar security personnel dead.
The Myanmar army denied all allegations of abuse despite the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights calling it a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.
The non-profit Doctors Without Borders reported last week that at least 6,700 Rohingyas have died since August as a result of the violence.
Myanmar does not recognize Rohingyas as citizens, consider them illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and subject them to acute discrimination including imposing restrictions on freedom of movement.