SITTWE, MYANMAR - A leading international rights group has revealed devastating satellite images exposing destructed and razed houses of a once-thriving Rohingya coastal community in Kyaukpyu, as fears grow for thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist Burma.
Myanmar "urgently needs to provide security for the Rohingya â¦ who are under vicious attack", Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters on Sunday, October 28.
Satellite images released by Human Rights Watch showed "near total destruction" of a once-thriving Rohingya coastal community in Kyaukpyu, scene of battles between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
More than 811 buildings and houseboats were razed, forcing many Rohingya to flee north by sea toward the state capital, Sittwe.
The image follows the latest episode of anti-Rohingya violence, which erupted a week ago in Minbyar township, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of the coastal state capital Sittwe and spread farther north to Mrauk-U township.
Wan-lark foundation, an organization that has been assisting Rakhine Buddhist refugees, said no clashes in the state had been reported to them since Friday night, but dead bodies of Rakhines had been found.
"Around 6pm last night in Kyawtyaw, the bodies of 16 Rakhines were found in the sea. They had died during the attacks on Thursday. We're looking for more bodies," representative Tun Mein Thein said yesterday.
Later on, a Rakhine government spokesman put the death toll at 112 as of Friday.
But within hours state media revised it to 67 killed from October 21 to 25, with 95 wounded and nearly 3,000 houses destroyed.
The death toll could be far higher, said Human Rights Watch, based on "allegations from witnesses fleeing scenes of carnage and the government's well-documented history of underestimating figures that might lead to criticism of the state".
The clashes come just five months after communal unrest killed more than 80 people and displaced at least 75,000 in the same region.
Human rights groups have accused Burmese police and troops of disproportionate use of force and arrests of Rohingyas in the wake of the riots.
Human Rights Watch has accused Burmese security forces of targeting Rohingya Muslims with killing, rape and arrest following the unrest.
Confirming HRW reports, Rohingya Rights groups warned that ethnic cleansing was running for Rohingya Muslim minority in Kyaukpyu.
"Ethnic cleansing is happening under the noses of the international community and they are doing nothing," said Tun Khin, president of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.
"We have confirmed reports that hundreds of people have been killed and the government must be aware of that."
The advocacy group reported that a boat carrying 120 Muslims from Kyaukpyu was intercepted by Rakhines, who killed the men and raped the women.
The United Nations has warned that Myanmar's fledgling democracy could be "irreparably damaged" by the violence.
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".
Yet, many of those expelled from Kyaukpyu are not Rohingya but Muslims from the officially recognised Kaman minority, said Chris Lewa, director of the Rohingya advocacy group Arakan Project.
"It's not just anti-Rohingya violence any more, it's anti-Muslim," she said.
Burma is about 90 percent Buddhist and the majority are ethnically Burman, but the remaining people are a diverse group of over 100 ethnic and religious minorities.
Treating Buddhism as the state de facto religion, the Buddhist Burman majority was singled out as the trustworthy pillar of national identity.