Violence in Myanmar Exposed By Satellite Images

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To better document on-the-ground accounts of such human-rights violations, the AAAS-led team collected images that show 31 of 70 reported incidents.

Among those, the team found 25 sites of interest, including burned villages, construction of military camps, and a blossoming refugee camp along the border with Thailand.

(Related: "Photos, Video Expose Darfur Atrocities in Google Earth" [April 25, 2007].)

One set of images from November 2000 and December 2006 shows before-and-after views of a military camp that was reported to be expanding in 2006.

"Essentially, the military presence has increased heavily in the region," Bromley said. "And we did spot several new military camps in addition to significant expansion in one of the military camps."

Another set of images shows a village that was reportedly dismantled in December 2006.

An archival satellite image from May 5, 2004, shows the village intact. A second image from February 23, 2007, shows that all the structures have been removed.

And an image of another site taken on June 24, 2007, shows multiple burn scars thought to represent a settlement that was reportedly destroyed in April. No matching image from before April is available.

Bromley noted that satellite imagery—which has been used for similar work in Sudan's Darfur region and in Zimbabwe—poses unique challenges in Myanmar.

Cloudy weather during the monsoon season can block satellites' views, while the region's rapid vegetation growth can quickly cover up changes to the landscape.

"In Darfur, if a village is wiped out, you are going to see traces of that village for years to come," Bromley said.

"In Burma, if a village is wiped out, it's essentially going to be grown over with that vegetation within a year or so."

Protests Squashed

The release of the satellite analysis comes at a time when Myanmar has drawn international attention due to a growing conflict between protestors and the military government.

The demonstration got underway when long-time dissidents of the military junta took to the streets on August 19 to protest a 500-percent increase in fuel prices.

Local marches swelled into record crowds when thousands of Buddhist monks joined the dissidents on September 18 (see a photo of a march in Yangon).

A government crackdown that started this Wednesday has included raids on monasteries and shots fired into crowds. The military has reported ten fatalities, although the exact death toll is uncertain.

At least one confirmed death is that of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, a photographer for the AFP news service. Images smuggled out of the country seem to show Nagai being deliberately shot by a military gunman.

As of today, the streets of Yangon were reportedly quieter as the government succeeded in restricting the monks to their monasteries. The country's Internet and telephone services have reportedly been shut off.

Several countries, including the United States, have condemned the crackdown and imposed economic sanctions against Myanmar's government.

Din, of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, said he hopes the newly released satellite images will increase political pressure and rally other governments—including Burma's closest ally, China—to take action.

"With this satellite imagery," he said, "at least we are able to organize international activists around the world to stand together with us to put the pressure on the Chinese government to change its policy on Burma."

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