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'This is ethnic cleansing': Heat-maps show huge fires spread across Rohingya region

“The evidence is irrefutable,” Amnesty said.

Bangladesh Myanmar Attacks A Bangladeshi boy walks by as smoke rises from fires in Myanmar. Source: Dar Yasin via PA Images

REPORTS THAT 390,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced out of Myanmar have been strengthened by satellite imagery that shows their villages being burned over the course of this week.

Rohingya refugees have been arriving in neighbouring Bangladesh over the past week, saying that they had been forced to flee because their villages had been burned to the ground and their family members, including young children, had been slaughtered.

Amnesty International’s analysis of active fire-detection data, satellite imagery, photographs and videos from the ground support the claims from those who have fled the area that security forces or vigilantes are purging the minority group.

The rights group says that more than 80 sites have been set ablaze since 25 August in a ”mass-scale scorched-earth campaign” across northern Rakhine state.

The UN, which has been denied access to visit the area, has accused Myanmar of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya, a stateless group that the Buddhist-majority country refuses to recognise as citizens.

Amnesty Amnesty's fire timescale map. Source: Amnesty

Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director, said:

The evidence is irrefutable – the Myanmar security forces are setting northern Rakhine State ablaze in a targeted campaign to push the Rohingya people out of Myanmar. Make no mistake: this is ethnic cleansing.

Escape

A census published in 2015 said 3 million people lived in Rakhine, including an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya.

Rakhine’s northernmost Maungdaw district was home to around three quarters of that population, according to government figures.

But nearly 40% of its Rohingya villages have been completely abandoned in the past three weeks, said government spokesman Zaw Htay.

Bangladesh Myanmar Attacks Rohingya Muslims walk towards refugee camps in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh. Source: Dar Yasin via PA Images

“There are 176 villages where the whole village fled,” he said on Wednesday, out of 471 Rohingya communities in total.

The recent refugee arrivals in Bangladesh amount to more than a third of the total number of Rohingya once based in Myanmar.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Hindus have also been driven from their homes since late August, saying they were targeted by the Rohingya militants.

According to estimates by UNICEF, around 60% of those fleeing the violence are children.

“There are acute shortages of everything, most critically shelter, food and clean water,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF’s Representative in Bangladesh.

Conditions on the ground place children at risk of high risk of waterborne disease. We have a monumental task ahead of us to protect these extremely vulnerable children.

Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugees Flee to Bangladesh Rohingya Muslim refugees disembark from a boat on the Bangladeshi side of the Naf river. Source: Masfiqur Sohan via PA Images

Yesterday, Myanmar’s government said some 4,000 people had started trickling back to their villages in Maungdaw as clashes between the army and militants ebbed, without specifying their ethnicity.

The government refutes the accusations of ethnic cleansing, instead saying the army has carried out targeted operations to snuff out the militant group, whose attacks on police posts in late August unleashed the massive military response.

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi had come under criticism from around the world for delaying speaking against the killing of Rohingya Muslims. She then came under criticism again when she blamed “a huge iceberg of misinformation” for the reports of violence and deliberate fires.

But US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime Suu Kyi friend and ally, said that during a telephone call she “agreed with the need for immediate and improved access of humanitarian assistance to the region, particularly by the International Red Cross, and she conveyed that she is working toward that end.”

- With reporting from AFP

Read: Facing a barrage of criticism, Aung San Suu Kyi cancels trip to UN General Assembly

Explainer: Who are the Rohingya, and why are hundreds of thousands fleeing Myanmar?

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