NEW YORK: Human Rights Watch urged the government of Myanmar on Saturday to take immediate steps to stop violence against the Rohingya Muslim population in the Arakan State of western Myanmar.
According to a statement by the rights group, new satellite imagery obtained by the right group shows extensive destruction of homes and other property in a predominantly Rohingya Muslim area of the coastal town of Kyauk Pyu – which, it says, is one of several areas of new violence and displacement.
The group called on Myanmar to urgently provide security for the Rohingya, which it said were under “vicious attack”, and to ensure protection and aid were given to the affected Muslim and Buddhist communities in the region.
HRW released the satellite images on Saturday which appears to show mass burnings and widespread destruction of a coastal district marred by ethnic unrest.
According to the group, a total of 811 destroyed building structures can be identified from the images of the eastern edge of Kyauk Pyu city – a predominantly Rohingya area. The destruction, it says, was likely caused by arson attacks occurring October 24.
It adds that the victims were mostly Muslim Rohingyas.
“Unless the authorities also start addressing the root causes of the violence, it is only likely to get worse,” said Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director.
More than 150 people, from both communities, have been killed in the state since violence first sparked in June, according to the government which has imposed emergency rule in the face of continued tension in the region.
Myanmar government spokesman, Win Myaing, said there were no immediate reports of fresh clashes between the Buddhist Rakhine and the Muslim Rohingya communities on Saturday after almost a week of deadly ethnic strife urging human rights groups to call for action to end the violence.
State television had reported Friday night that 67 people had died, 95 been injured and 2,818 houses were burned down from Sunday through Thursday in seven of the state’s townships. Win Myaing had earlier stated the death toll as 112, but later explained that had been a mistaken tally.
Human Rights Watch said it believes the true death toll may be higher than that officially reported, based on witnesses’ accounts and a history of government undercounting in cases that might reflect badly on it.
Amnesty International also issued a separate statement calling for more government action to protect lives.
“These latest incidents between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhists demonstrate how urgent it is that the authorities intervene to protect everyone, and break the cycle of discrimination and violence,” Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director, Isabelle Arradon, said in a statement.
In June, ethnic violence in Rakhine killed at least 90 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes. About 75,000 have been living in refugee camps ever since. Curfews have been in place in some areas since the earlier violence and were extended in scope this past week.
Thousands displaced after unrest
According to officials, thousands of displaced people have surged towards already overcrowded camps in western Myanmar following the recent spate of communal violence.
The unrest in Rakhine state has caused a fresh exodus of people fleeing for safety from Rohingya minority areas.
Tens of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingya are already crammed into squalid camps around the state capital Sittwe after deadly violence in June. Rakhine state officials said the latest bloodshed had caused an influx of boats carrying around 6,000 people to the city.
“The local government is planning to relocate them to a suitable place. We are having problems because more people are coming,” said Rakhine government spokesman Hla Thein. Some of the displaced are still on boats while several thousand have docked on an island opposite Sittwe.
The United Nations earlier said 3,200 had made their way towards shelters in Sittwe, with a further several thousand on the way.
Residents of one camp in a coastal area on the outskirts of Sittwe said they could see boatloads of Rohingya on the shore.
“The security forces are not allowing them to come in. Some people are on the shore and some are still on their boats,” Kyaw Kyaw told AFP by telephone.
He added the group of several thousand people, including women and children, was believed to be from just two towns.
Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which campaigns for Rohingya rights, said the recent spate of clashes were “far deadlier” than the June unrest.
“Rakhine State has now spiraled into complete lawlessness,” she told news agency AFP on Saturday. “Violence is spreading to the south and east with the clear purpose of expelling all Muslims, not just Rohingya.”
Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya are seen as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh by the government and many Burmese – who call them “Bengalis” – and face discrimination that activists say has led to a deepening alienation from Buddhists.
The United Nations on Friday warned that the hostilities could jeopardise the country’s widely-praised reforms, which include the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
The stateless Rohingya, speaking a Bengali dialect similar to one in neighbouring Bangladesh, have long been considered by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities on the planet.