By Kyaw Ye Lynn
Satellite imagery of Rohingya villages in Myanmar's western Rakhine State shows 820 newly identified structures were destroyed in five different locations Nov. 10-18, according to a report released Monday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the government to "without further delay" invite the United Nations to assist in an impartial investigation of the widespread destruction.
The demand echoes a statement by the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, who visited the area as part of a government-led delegation in early November.
“The security forces must not be given carte blanche to step up their operations under the smokescreen of having allowed access to an international delegation," Yanghee Lee said in a Nov. 18 statement.
"Urgent action is needed to bring resolution to the situation."
The destruction has occurred since armed groups launched fatal attacks on police stations in northern Rakhine on Oct. 9.
In the aftermath, the government has said that at least 86 people -- 17 soldiers and 69 alleged "attackers" (among them two women) -- were killed, along with the destruction of Rohingya property.
Rohingya groups, however, claim that the number of civilians killed in one weekend alone earlier this month could be as high as 150.
There has been no independent verification of the alleged attacks or arrests as access to the area near the Bangladesh border has been under military control since the initial incident.
The army-run Myawaddy newspaper has claimed, however, that the mass arson was self-inflicted by villagers to evoke global sympathy, while Rohingya groups say the torchings are an army tactic to wipe out their property and then deflect blame.
The latest images bring the total number of destroyed buildings documented by HRW in northern Rakhine to 1,250.
“These alarming new satellite images confirm that the destruction in Rohingya villages is far greater and in more places than the government has admitted,” said Brad Adams, the NGO's Asia director.
“The apparent arson attacks against five Rohingya villages is a matter of grave concern for which the Burmese [Myanmar] government needs to investigate and prosecute those responsible."
He underlined UN participation as "crucial" for such an investigation to be credible.
On Monday, the government said that at least 430 people have also been detained for alleged involvement in the initial attacks, along with subsequent alleged attacks on military conducting clearance operations in the area.
State-run newspapers, citing statements from the State Counselor Office Information Committee, said that 60 people were recently arrested for involvement in a Oct. 11 incident in which it said five soldiers had died, while 33 people were detained Saturday for alleged involvement in Nov. 12. attacks on troops.
All arrests took place in the predominantly Rohingya township of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine.
Meanwhile, calls for investigations into rights abuse of Rohingya continue.
Residents are reported to have suffered serious human rights violations during the military operation, including torture, rape and sexual assault, summary executions, and the destruction of mosques and homes.
In her Nov. 18 statement, Special Rapporteur Lee criticized authorities for placing the region on lockdown for six weeks, and expressed particular concern at reports that the security operation had been stepped up since the delegation left.
“The government has now admitted using helicopter gunships in support of ground troops, and there are unverified claims of reprisals against villagers who had shared their grievances with the delegation,” she said.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office has now announced a national-level investigation commission will soon be formed to probe the ongoing attacks in Maungdaw.
“The commission will submit a report based on its findings in the investigation and will also give suggestions for the prevention of such kind of attacks in the future,” the state-run Global News Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.
The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs announced Saturday that up to 30,000 people have now been displaced by the ongoing violence.
On Monday, Indonesia's minister of religious affairs called on Muslims to pray for Rohingya, both for the safety of those who are still alive and in tribute to those who had died.
"We are all very concerned with the conflict. Hopefully the number of victims does not continue to grow," said Lukman Hakim Saifuddin.
He said Indonesia is now monitoring the situation, and ready to help if needed.