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Probe call after fire destroys Myanmar village

HRW says the blaze has all the hallmarks of previous military arson attacks on Rohingya villages

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Probe call after fire destroys Myanmar village

A girl holds a baby at the Aung Mingalar quarter for Rohingya Muslims as they observe the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday in Sittwe in Myanmar's Rakhine state on May 24. (Photo: AFP)

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An international human rights group has called for an independent probe into a fire that allegedly destroyed around 200 homes and other buildings in Myanmar’s conflict-torn Rakhine state.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) cited satellite imagery that allegedly showed burning houses and other structures in Let Kar, Mrauk-U township, in Rakhine on May 16.

Satellite imagery recorded at 10.30am on May 16 shows no signs of damage in Let Kar. But at 2.12pm an environmental satellite detected extensive fires burning there, according to the rights group.

“The burning of Let Kar village has all the hallmarks of Myanmar military arson on Rohingya villages in recent years,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, said in a May 26 statement.

“A credible and impartial investigation is urgently needed to find out what happened, punish those responsible and provide compensation to villagers harmed.”

HRW said the imagery of Let Kar bears a close resemblance to patterns of fires and widespread arson attacks by the Myanmar military on ethnic Rohingya villages in Rakhine state in 2012, 2016 and 2017.

HRW quoted an aid worker from Maruk-U town as saying that at about 2 pm on May 16, columns of smoke could be seen coming from the direction of Let Kar, 11 kilometers north.

“There was no one living there after the fighting last year as [the residents] had fled, but the older people really have nowhere to go now,” said the aid worker.

On May 17, Myanmar’s military released a statement that its troops had entered Let Kar the previous afternoon while patrolling the area and were attacked by the Arakan Army.

The military accused Arakan Army of setting the fires and damaging at least 20 houses before retreating into the mountains. The Arakan Army denied the accusation.

The military has called a ceasefire over Covid-19 from May 10 to Aug. 31 but Rakhine and Chin states, where intense fighting between the military and Arakan Army continues, are excluded from the truce.

Renewed conflict that erupted in December 2018 has claimed scores of civilian lives and more than 157,000 people have been displaced in Rakhine and Chin states.

Myanmar has been under pressure from rights groups over its treatment of Rohingya in Rakhine which the UN claims amounts to genocide.

More than 700,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to Bangladesh due to a bloody crackdown by the military in August 2017.

Myanmar has submitted its first report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to present the measures it is taking to protect the ethnic minority.

Myanmar is required to report all measures to prevent genocidal acts, ensure its military and police forces do not commit genocidal acts, and preserve all potential evidence of genocidal acts.

Subsequent reports will be due every six months until the ICJ makes its final decision. The ICJ has no obligation to make reports public.

Rights groups say no meaningful steps have been taken as Rohingya remain under the repressive and genocidal regime in Rakhine.

“The government and military have taken no meaningful steps whatsoever to improve the situation in Rakhine state, where women, men and children continue to suffer a hellish existence,” Tun Khin, the president of Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, said in a May 25 statement.

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