Entire Muslim Rohingya villages in Myanmar have been demolished and replaced by police barracks, government buildings and refugee relocation camps, the BBC has found.
On a government tour, the BBC saw four locations where secure facilities have been built on what satellite images show were once Rohingya settlements.
Officials denied building on top of the villages in Rakhine state.
In 2017 more than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar during a military operation.
The UN has described it as “textbook ethnic cleansing”. Myanmar (also called Burma) has denied large-scale killings by its forces.
Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country, continues to deny its troops carried out ethnic cleansing and genocide. It now says it is ready to take some refugees back.
But last month, a second attempt to start repatriating Rohingya refugees failed, after none of the 3,450 people approved by Myanmar to return agreed to do so. They cited the lack of accountability for atrocities committed in 2017, and uncertainty over whether they would get the freedom of movement or citizenship.
Myanmar blamed Bangladesh and said it was prepared to receive large numbers of returnees. To demonstrate this they invited journalists, including the BBC, to see their facilities.
Access to Rakhine is normally tightly restricted. We traveled in a government convoy and were not allowed to film or interview people without police supervision.
But we were able to see clear evidence of the deliberate eradication of Rohingya communities.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which has been analyzing satellite images, estimates that at least 40% of Rohingya villages damaged by the 2017 violence have since been completely demolished.
What did the BBC find in Myanmar?
The government took us to Hla Poe Kaung transit camp, which it says can house 25,000 returnees, who would stay for two months before moving to permanent housing.
The camp, which was completed nearly a year ago, is in poor condition; the communal toilets have fallen apart. It was built on the site of two Rohingya villages, Haw Ri Tu Lar and Thar Zay Kone, demolished after the 2017 violence.
When I asked the camp administrator Soe Shwe Aung why they had destroyed the villages, he denied any had been demolished. But when I pointed out that satellite images showed otherwise, he said he had only recently taken the job and was not able to answer.
We were then taken to Klein Chaung, a relocation camp, where houses have been built with Japanese and Indian government funding as long-term accommodation for returning refugees. But a Rohingya village called Myar Zin was bulldozed to clear land for this camp, which lies close to a massive new barracks for the Border Guard Police – a unit of the security forces accused by Rohingyas of serious abuses in 2017. Speaking off-camera, officials there confirmed the demolition of Myar Zin.
Originally published on www.bbc.com