Myanmar is also known as Burma, and it is near Thailand
Satellite images may show Myanmar abuses By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - While the government's bloody crackdown on street demonstrations in Myanmar has drawn the world's attention, newly released satellite photos provide evidence that the military there has destroyed villages and forcibly relocated people in the countryside.
Images collected over the last year focused on sites in eastern Myanmar, helping document reports of villages being burned or eliminated, new villages where people had been relocated and rapidly expanding military camps, Lars Bromley of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said Friday.
Meanwhile Myanmar soldiers clubbed and dragged away activists while firing tear gas and warning shots to break up demonstrations and the government cut Internet access, raising fears that a deadly crackdown would intensify.
Troops also occupied Buddhist monasteries in a bid to clear the streets of Myanmar's revered monks, who have spearheaded the demonstrations, and estimates of the death toll ranged from 10 to 200 or more.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has become the focus of international pressure to curtail the violent repression of its citizens.
"We are trying to send a message to the military junta that we are watching from the sky," Aung Din, policy director for the U.S. Campaign for Burma, said Friday at a briefing on the photos.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science said it compiled the satellite images from organizations operating in the country. Bromley, director of the association's Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project, said they were obtained from commercial firms, using low-orbit satellites that pass over Myanmar every day or so.
"Physical evidence of reported attacks on civilians sometimes can be subtle compared to the slash-and-burn types of destruction that we saw in Darfur or Zimbabwe. It's also a lush ecosystem where plants can quickly grow to cover burn marks and clouds and terrain often block satellite observation," he said.
Nonetheless, he said he was able to map the locations of many reported human rights violations.
"Eighteen of the locations showed evidence consistent with destroyed or damaged villages," he said. "We found evidence of expanded military camps in four other locations as well as multiple possibly relocated villages, and we documented growth in one refugee camp on the Thai border."
"These things are happening over quite a range, it's not just an isolated incident," Bromley said.
"We're not necessarily drawing conclusions about what happened to these villages, that comes form organizations we work with," he explained.
But, for example, there were reports of attacks on villages in April and satellite images later showed the blackened remains of burned villages.
In addition, the photos showed several new villages near military camps, indicating forced relocations.
Bromley said that since the demonstrations began in recent days satellites have been turned toward the major cities, but he noted that this is the cloudy season.
"We are hoping for a gap in the clouds," he said.
Satellite images showed multiple burn scars in otherwise thick green forest in the Papun district and before-and-after images showed the removal of structures, consistent with eyewitness reports of village destruction.
Signs of an expanded military presence, such as the buildup of bamboo fencing around a camp, and construction of a satellite camp, also were identified, Bromley said.
Buildup of military camps and disappearance of villages and buildings were also documented in the Toungoo and Dooplaya districts.
The military took control of Myanmar in 1962 and since then had regularly clashed with pro-democracy groups. Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, a democracy advocate, has been detained by the military for years.
The current crisis began Aug. 19 with rallies against a fuel price hike. It escalated when monks began joining the protests.
President Bush announced economic sanctions against Myanmar on Thursday, and other countries have also condemned the actions.
First lady Laura Bush and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have previously condemned human rights violations in Myanmar.
In a plea to Myanmar's ruling military regime, Mrs. Bush said earlier this week, "I want to say to the armed guards and to the soldiers: Don't fire on your people. Don't fire on your neighbors." Her remarks were in a Voice of America interview.
AAAS, a nonprofit general scientific society, previously used satellite technology to seek evidence of destruction in Darfur and Zimbabwe. The latest research was supported by the Open Society Institute and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
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