YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — High-definition satellite images show 820 newly identified structures destroyed this month in five Rohingya Muslim villages in Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state where the military is carrying out counter-insurgency operations, a human rights group said Monday.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch urged the government to invite the United Nations to assist in an impartial investigation.
"These alarming new satellite images confirm that the destruction in Rohingya villages is far greater and in more places than the government has admitted," said Brad Adams, the Asia director for the group.
The president's spokesman, Zaw Htay, last week accused Human Rights Watch of exaggeration after the release of an initial set of satellite imagery that showed 430 destroyed buildings in three villages.
He accused the international media of misreporting the situation in Rakhine, where the government has mounted a massive security operation since nine police officers were killed by unidentified assailants who attacked guard posts in Maungdaw village bordering Bangladesh last month.
The government has acknowledged using helicopter gunships in support of ground troops in the operations.
It has implied that the attacks were carried out by sympathizers of the minority Rohingya, who face intense discrimination, repression and violence in Rakhine state.
They have frequently been targeted by the Buddhist Rakhine majority, who view them as illegal migrants. The state denies them citizenship even though they have lived in the region for generations. More than 100,000 Rohingya still live in camps after being driven from their homes following clashes with the Rakhine people in 2012.
Human Rights Watch said the new satellite imagery — recorded on Nov. 10 and Nov. 17-18 — brings to 1,250 the number of destroyed buildings documented by it.
"Instead of responding with military-era style accusations and denials, the government should simply look at the facts and take action to protect all people in Burma, whatever their religion or ethnicity," Adams said. Myanmar is also known as Burma.
Ko Ko Linn, an activist of Arakan Rohingya National Organization, said more than 100 people have been killed, at least 1,000 houses in Maungdaw have been burned and hundreds have been arrested.
The claims are impossible to verify, as are the government allegations because of access restrictions on journalists and aid workers.
Rohingya villager says the government is trying to systematically to drive Muslims minority from their villages.
On Friday, the United Nations warned of a worsening rights situation in Rakhine state. Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes amid the security operation. Humanitarian assistance has been suspended and civilians are reported to be caught up in military action, and there are reports of human rights abuses, including the alleged rape and sexual assault of women and girls.
The government blames the unidentified attackers of the border posts for burning homes but rights groups say the army is responsible for those and other abuses.
"After six weeks of violence with virtually no aid reaching tens of thousands of highly vulnerable people, the government needs to act decisively to assist them," Adams said. "A government with nothing to hide should have no problem granting access to journalists and human rights investigators."