Myanmar: satellite imagery confirms Rohingya village of Tula Toli razed

Exclusive: Photographs of burned houses corroborates Guardian report on destruction of homes by the army

New satellite images taken above the Myanmar village of Tula Toli have revealed the charred remains of the settlement, confirming a Guardian report earlier this month that detailed its demolition based on eyewitness accounts.

More than a dozen Rohingya from Tula Toli described a blood-soaked operation by Myanmar’s armed forces on 30 August that killed scores of civilians, emptied the village and set their wood-built homes ablaze.

High-resolution photos, taken on Saturday when monsoon rain clouds briefly cleared for the first time in weeks, show significant destruction to the village, according to an analysis by Amnesty International, which has tracked the conflict from space.

“The destruction visible in the imagery is consistent with recent burning, most clearly characterised by damage to surrounding vegetation,” Amnesty said of Tula Toli, officially known in Myanmar by its Burmese name, Min Gyi.

The United Nations’ top human rights official has referred to the violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The conflict is steeped in Islamophobic hatred that has become widespread in Myanmar.

Satellite images show that only the south-west corner of Tula Toli appears intact. When shown a map earlier this month, Rohingya refugees told the Guardian this part of the village was inhabited by ethnic Rakhine people, who, like most in Myanmar, are Buddhists.

Before and after: satellite images of Tula Toli
Before and after: satellite images of Tula Toli

Residents told the Guardian that soldiers and local Rakhine Buddhist mobs stole valuables from Rohingya days before the attack. They said an early-morning campaign by the army killed dozens. One man, Petam Ali, said his elderly grandmother was decapitated and burned. Others said soldiers drowned babies and toddlers in the river that surrounds the village.

“These pictures are further damning evidence of the horror that the Rohingya are enduring at the hands of the Myanmar military,” said Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK.

“Aung Sun Suu Kyi cannot continue to ignore the brutal truth that people are being indiscriminately slaughtered and their homes destroyed by the security forces.”

Journalists have not been permitted access to the area and the government has not responded to requests for comment.

The Rohingya have been systematically persecuted for decades by the government, which, contrary to historical evidence, regards them as illegal “Bengali” migrants from Bangladesh.

The latest wave of bloodshed, which is the deadliest so far, ramped up after the army launched a huge counteroffensive in retribution for guerrilla-style ambushes on 25 August by an emergent Rohingya militant group.

Nearly 400,000 people – just less than half of Rakhine’s Rohingya population – have poured into Bangladesh, fleeing what Amnesty describes as a mass-scale scorched-earth campaign across the north of the state.

Satellite image of fire damage in Tula Toli
Satellite image of fire damage in Tula Toli Photograph: Amnesty International/DigitalGlobe 2017, NextView License

Many Rohingya had already escaped. Communal clashes with Buddhists in Rakhine prompted 140,000 to leave their homes in 2012. Thousands have since died either at sea or in brutal jungle camps run by people smugglers.

Buddhist nationalists, led by firebrand monks, have operated a long campaign calling for Rohingya to be pushed out of the country. The government already restricts their citizenship rights and access to services.

The fighting has displaced a further 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus, while armed Rohingya, called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), have been accused of equally cruel sectarian attacks.

The New-York based advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, said on Tuesday that satellite imagery showed the near total destruction of 214 villages in Rakhine state since operations began.

Amnesty has detected at least 80 large-scale fires in inhabited areas across northern Rakhine.

“A review of the surrounding area reveals that the fire damage is not confined to Min Gyi,” it said. “Multiple villages in the area show the same destruction observable as in Min Gyi.”


Oliver Holmes South-east Asia correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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