Human Rights Watch claims a massive block of buildings has been burned to the ground in Rakhine State. The organization says satellite imagery shows the scorched husks of around 200 structures in Let Kar village, in Mrauk-U Township. The claim draws fresh attention to an ongoing humanitarian crisis that has damaged Myanmar’s global reputation and driven off foreign investment. Although the alleged act of mass arson was probably due to ongoing fighting between the Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) and the Arakan Army insurgents, it us unclear who burned the buildings.
The incident follows a high-profile attack on a World Health Organization vehicle transporting COVID-19 relief workers. Neither side claimed responsibility for that attack, and each side routinely accuses the other of human rights abuses. The AA is haunted by reports of executions, kidnappings, forced labor and plunder against civilian communities. The Tatmadaw and civilian government, on the other hand, have been criticized for controversial internet blackouts in rebel controlled areas and leveling charges against journalists who speak with the AA or criticize the military in their articles.
“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 Human Rights Watch. “A credible and impartial investigation is urgently needed to find out what happened, punish those responsible, and provide compensation to villagers harmed.”
Conflict and scandal in Rakhine State has dogged Myanmar for years, both politically and economically. The mass exodus of Muslims and subsequent failure to repatriate the refugees led the UN to call for a blanket boycott of all military-linked businesses. Many foreign companies and investors, especially from the West, have simply sidestepped what was once Asia’s most exciting frontier market. Myanmar must achieve peace and stability on its western border if it hopes to redeem its international reputation, but for now, the fighting rages on.