YANGON: At least 200 houses and other buildings were destroyed by fire in a conflict-ridden state in Myanmar in an incident that has “all the hallmarks” of previous military arson attacks on villages, a rights group said Tuesday.
Let Kar village in the northwestern state of Rakhine was mostly deserted when the buildings went up in flames on May 16 after the population of mainly ethnic Rakhine Buddhists fled more than a year ago, Human Rights Watch said, citing satellite images and witnesses.
Myanmar’s military has been locked in an increasingly brutal war against the Arakan Army (AA), insurgents fighting for more autonomy for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, since January last year that has killed scores of people and forced 150,000 to flee their homes.
Both the military and the AA deny responsibility for the destruction in Let Kar in Mrauk U township, accusing the other of committing what HRW warns could constitute a war crime.
“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 for HRW.
“A credible and impartial investigation is urgently needed to find out what happened, punish those responsible, and provide compensation to villagers harmed.”
Rakhine is the state where a 2017 military crackdown forced about 750,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh in violence that has led to Myanmar facing genocide charges at the UN’s top court.
Robertson added that the government should request UN assistance in the probe and not leave it to the military.
The HRW analysis of the satellite images “most likely” underestimates the scale of the destruction because internal damage to buildings is not visible, the group said.
There have been no reports of any deaths.
Kyaw Zaw Hla, 46, who has been living in a camp near the village with his family since fleeing, confirmed his home was among those razed.
“We’ve lost everything,” he told AFP by phone.
“We aren’t able to make a living and we have no access to healthcare.”
Photos released by the armed forces show “AA insurgents running away after setting fire to the village”, military spokesman Zaw Min Tun said Friday, allegations rebuffed by the AA.
The conflict-ridden area is under an internet shutdown and off-limits to journalists, making independent reporting difficult.
UN rights expert Yanghee Lee last month warned Myanmar’s military should be investigated for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Lee accused the armed forces of causing the forced disappearances, torturing and killing dozens of AA suspects – allegations the military denied.