Over the past three weeks, Human Rights Watch has identified three villages in Burma’s Rakhine state that have been all but completely burned, presumably by the military. Before-and-after satellite imagery depicts about 430 buildings reduced to ash, along with the tree cover surrounding them.
Rakhine state has experienced recent violence stemming from a much-longer conflict between ethnic Burmese and the Bengali-speaking Rohingya minority, who are considered, by the Burmese state, to have immigrated illegally despite having deep historical rootsin the region. On Monday, the Burmese government said its military had killed 34 people, who they claimed had attacked first, though locals said the dead were unarmed civilians.
Last month, nine Burmese policemen were killed in what is thought to have been a retaliatory attack by the Rohingya. Burmese politicians, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now Burma’s de facto head of state, have rhetorically tried to tie violence perpetrated by the Muslim-majority Rohingya to extremism. They also insist that Rohingyas be referred to as Bengali so as to punctuate their supposedly foreign origin across the border in Bangladesh.
There are roughly 1 million Rohingya in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar. More than 100,000 live in squalid displacement camps, where they are susceptible to hunger, as well as continued attacks. A village schoolteacher in Rakhine state told the Associated Press that many more Rohingya were hiding in forests due to the scorched earth campaign by the military.