Myanmar 'militarizing' burnt Rohingya villages

Rohingya Muslims carry their children and belongings after crossing the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh

Myanmar's military is razing emptied Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine state and building bases on the rubble, raising fears that evidence of atrocities may be destroyed, according to a new report by rights watchdog Amnesty International.

Through eyewitness testimony and expert analysis of satellite images, Remaking Rakhine State reveals how flattening of Rohingya villages and new construction have intensified since January in areas where hundreds of thousands fled the military's campaign of ethnic cleansing a year ago.

Amnesty said the developments in Rakhine were likely to signal further persecution when the Rohingya refugees return.

The rights body warned that militarization in Myanmar's Rakhine State was continuing at an "alarming pace".

"The new evidence and the rebuilding that Amnesty has documented in our latest research shows that the Myanmar authorities are building over the top of the very places the Rohingya need to return to", Tirana Hassan, Amnesty's crisis response director, told AFP ahead of the report's release on Monday.

The report comes on the heels of a similar investigation published by Human Rights Watch in February, in which the organization alleged Myanmar's forces were demolishing Rohingya villages in order to erase any proof of human rights abuses that may have been committed in Rakhine. "Not only are their homes gone, but the new construction is entrenching the already dehumanizing discrimination they have faced in Myanmar". In one case, Rohingya villagers who had remained in Myanmar were forcibly evicted to make way for a base, it said.

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Amnesty's analysis of new satellite imagery appears to prove that at least three new security bases have been built in Rakhine since January.

At least four mosques that had not been wrecked by fire have been destroyed, or had their roofing or other materials removed, since late December, a time when significant conflict was not reported in the area, Amnesty said.

Nearly 700,000 people have fled northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh in the last six months following a wave violence which the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement to begin repatriating the refugees at the end of January, but Dhaka suspended it at the last minute.

Satellite imagery also shows how new refugee reception centres - meant to "welcome" Rohingya who return from Bangladesh - are surrounded by security fences and close to areas with a heavy presence of military and border guard personnel. Most rely on aid for their basic needs.

This is worrying since authorities have in the past resettled members of other ethnic groups into Rakhine State as part of efforts to develop the region. The authorities can not be allowed to continue their campaign of ethnic cleansing in the name of "development".