Hundreds of Rohingya villages destroyed, report finds

Satellite images reveal the destruction of Rohingya villages has continued for weeks after Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi claimed military operations against the Muslim minority had ceased in her country's Rakhine State.

Images show dozens of buildings were set alight the same week that Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement - on November 23 - to start to return more than 835,000 Rohingya from refugee camps in Bangladesh, where aid groups say a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding.

Dozens of refugees arriving at the Bangladeshi border from Rakhine have also told Fairfax Media they were fleeing ongoing intimidation and burnings in Rakhine, which is home to more than a million Rohingya.

Analysis of new images shows that 354 villages have been partially or completely destroyed in Rakhine since August 25, the day Myanmar's military began attacking Rohingya in what it called "clearance operations" in response to insurgent attacks on police posts.

On Monday, Fairfax Media published a series of stories documenting extreme cruelty inflicted on Rohingya by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist vigilantes, including monks.

In an editorial, Fairfax Media described the indiscriminate killing, mass rape and arson in Rakhine as genocide and called on Australia to toughen its position on the crisis, including ending the Australian Defence Force's support to the Myanmar military.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has described the atrocities as the "very likely commission of crimes against humanity".

Human Rights Watch said satellite imagery showed at least 118 villages were either partially or completely destroyed after September 5, the day that Suu Kyi claimed all military operations had ceased.

Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's Asia director, said the Myanmar army's destruction of villages within days of signing a refugee repatriation agreement with Bangladesh showed that "commitments to safe returns were just a public relations stunt".

"The satellite imagery shows what the Burmese [Myanmar] military denies: that Rohingya villages continue to be destroyed," he said.

The aid group Oxfam said in a report released on Monday that refugees in the Bangladesh camps have threatened to take their own lives should they be forced back to Myanmar.

Dozens of Rohingya made the same threat in interviews with Fairfax Media over 10 days in the camps where diseases are spreading rapidly, children are dying of malnutrition and water supplies are running out.

Doctors Without Borders says as many as 13,769 Rohingya, including 730 children under the age of five, have been killed in Rakhine since August.

The atrocities have forced almost 650,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine in the largest movement of a civilian population in Asia for decades.

Asked whether the Turnbull government was considering toughening its position towards Myanmar, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said Australia's "current focus is on helping the situation through both humanitarian and diplomatic efforts that can do most to help the Rohingya people".

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has refused to directly condemn Myanmar's military or Suu Kyi's government, as the United States and European Union consider imposing sanctions targeting the country's military commanders.

Australia has pledged $30 million of its $3.9 billion aid budget in 2017-18 for the humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis.

This story Hundreds of Rohingya villages destroyed, report finds first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.