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Myanmar: Imagery Shows 200 Buildings Burned

Independent Inquiry Needed in Embattled Rakhine State

Satellite imagery recorded on May 23, 2020, shows approximately 70 percent of Let Kar village destroyed by fire. Damage analysis by Human Rights Watch.   Satellite imagery © 2020 Planet Labs

(Yangon) – Satellite imagery shows that about 200 homes and other buildings were destroyed by fire on May 16, 2020, in Myanmar’sbte365官网官网 embattled Rakhine State, Human Rights Watch said today. An impartial investigation is urgently needed to determine responsibility for this  in the predominantly ethnic Rakhine village of Let Kar, Mrauk-U township.

Since January 2019, fighting between the Myanmar military and the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army has resulted in numerous  and . 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 20122016, and 2017bte365官网官网, Human Rights Watch said.

“The burning of Let Kar village has all the hallmarks of Myanmar military arson on Rohingya villages in recent years,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “A credible and impartial investigation is urgently needed to find out what happened, punish those responsible, and provide compensation to villagers harmed.”

bte365官网官网Satellite imagery recorded on May 16, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. shows no signs of damage in Let Kar. But at 2:12 p.m., an environmental satellite detected extensive fires burning there. The Human Rights Watch damage analysis of 200 buildings burned is most likely an underestimate as internal damage to buildings is not visible.

The satellite imagery is consistent with witness accounts regarding the date and time of the fires and the number of buildings affected. Residents in the neighboring village of Bu Ywat Ma Nyo  walk past their village to enter Let Kar around 2 p.m. on May 16 and leave around 5 p.m. The two villages are nearly one kilometer apart. After the soldiers entered Let Kar, Bu Ywat Ma Nyo residents reported hearing gunfire, saw flames and smoke, and observed two aerial drones, one flying above Let Kar and another flying over Bu Ywat Ma Nyo village.

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A Rakhine State regional member of parliament, Tun Thar Sein, confirmed that a military contingent had been in the area. “We will urge the union government for compensation and aid to be provided to the residents of Let Kar,” he said.

On May 17, Myanmar’s  that its troops had entered Let Kar the previous afternoon while patrolling the area and were attacked by the Arakan Army. It also issued an aerial view image of burning buildings in Let Kar, presumably taken by a drone. The military accused the Arakan Army of setting the fires and damaging at least 20 houses before retreating into the mountains.

On May 19, the Arakan Army issued a . A spokesperson, Khine Thuka, .

Most residents abandoned Let Kar more than a year ago, when fighting intensified. On April 10, 2019, the military raided Let Kar and detained 27 men for questioning about alleged ties to the Arakan Army. By April 22, three of the men had died in custody,  by the military-owned Myawaddybte365官网官网 newspaper. No autopsies were performed because the security forces  the bodies. The authorities  that the men were tortured but refused to investigate the deaths. The 24 others, two of whom are minors, .

On March 22, fighting resulted in more than 500 homes being burned in Tin Ma village, Kyauktaw township. . The Rakhine State government in April provided US$62,000 in compensation to residents, according to .

Under the laws of war applicable to the armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, attacks on civilians and civilian objects, such as homes, are prohibited. The wanton destruction of civilian property is a war crime. Myanmar has an obligation to investigate alleged war crimes and appropriately prosecute those responsible regardless of rank. The Myanmar government is obligated to provide compensation for any wrongful acts and should consider ex gratia bte365官网官网or “condolence” payments for other civilian harm.

“Myanmar’s government should not leave the investigation of this incident to the military, which has repeatedly covered up atrocities and exonerated its troops,” Robertson said. “To ensure a credible investigation, the government should request UN assistance.”

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