Bangkok: Fierce fighting has escalated in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state where satellite imagery shows the destruction of hundreds of Rohingya Muslim homes.
Myanmar’s government said eight people died and 36 were arrested in the latest clashes between the Myanmar army and what the government claimed are Rohingya militants.
Human rights groups accuse the military of killing, raping and burning the homes of Rohingya, a minority of almost one million people in Buddhist majority Myanmar.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had identified a total of 430 destroyed buildings in three districts of Maungdaw from an analysis of high-definition satellite imagery recorded between October 22 and November 10.
Brad Adams, the organisation’s Asia director, said the images show the destruction is far greater than was at first thought and called on Myanmar authorities to promptly establish a UN-assisted investigation as a first step towards ensuring justice and security for the victims.
Myanmar’s Information Ministry said the violence flared last weekend when government troops were ambushed by about 60 attackers armed with guns, knives and spears.
Two soldiers were killed in a subsequent battle involving 500 armed men, the ministry said, adding that two helicopter gunships joined the fight.
The military has imposed a lock-down on most of the region since October 9 when gunmen attacked three police posts near the border with Bangladesh, leaving nine policemen dead.
The government claims the attackers were Rohingya extremists but the actual responsibility remains unclear, human rights groups say.
Aid organisations, the United Nations, independent observers and the media have been prevented from going to the affected areas where tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said children there already suffer from high levels of deprivation and malnutrition.
“Their futures depend on help from doctors, nurses, teachers and others who can provide them with nutrition, health and education services,” UNICEF said.
The violence is the most serious to hit to Rakhine since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in 2012.
More than 100,000 Rohingya are still living in squalid camps after being driven from their homes where they are denied citizenship and other basic rights, despite the fact their families have lived in the country also known as Burma for generations.