DHAKA (REUTERS) - Amnesty International has released fresh satellite images of burnt villages in Rakhine state, alleging that Myanmar's security forces have led "systematic" clearances of Rohingya Muslim settlements over the last three weeks.
At least 26 villages had been hit by arson attacks in the Rohingya-majority region, the rights group said last Friday (Sept 15), with patches of grey ash picked up in photos marking the spots where homes had once stood.
Backing up the pictures, Amnesty International said fire sensors deployed on satellites had detected 80 large-scale blazes across northern Rakhine state since Aug 25, when the army launched "clearance operations".
"Rakhine state is on fire" in a "clear campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar security forces", said Amnesty researcher Olof Blomqvist.
The group quoted Rohingya witnesses who described security officers and vigilantes using petrol or shoulder-fired rocket launchers to set homes alight, before firing on villagers as they fled.
"It's very difficult to conclude that it is anything other than a deliberate effort by the Myanmar military to drive Rohingya out of their own country by any means necessary," Blomqvist added.
The latest round of violence in Rakhine state started on Aug 25, when deadly attacks by Rohingya militants on police posts and an army camp prompted a ferocious response from Myanmar's security forces.
At least 430,000 Rohingya have since fled into neighbouring Bangladesh to evade what the United Nations has called a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".