Watching Myanmar from Above As it has done in Darfur and other crisis zones, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has conducted an analysis of high-resolution satellite images in Myanmar. It "pinpoints evidence consistent with village destruction, forced relocations, and a growing military presence at 25 sites across eastern Burma where eye-witnesses have reported human rights violations." This study, which has been underway for more than a year, does not document the current uprising in the cities, but rather tracks the ongoing campaign by Myanmar's security forces in the countryside.
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Watching Myanmar from Above

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Watching Myanmar from Above

Watching Myanmar from Above

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Human rights groups have long been investigating abuses in Myanmar. And now, there are satellite images to help them make their case. Today in Washington, a group of scientists released a report with before and after pictures. They show where villages were destroyed in the long-running military campaign against ethnic minorities in the east of the country.

Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Lars Bromley of the American Association for the Advancement of Science says it has been a challenge to work on Myanmar, not only because the monsoon season makes it difficult to see much in satellite imagery, but also because of the lush environment in eastern Myanmar. He compares this to his work on Darfur, Sudan.

Mr. LARS BROMLEY (American Association for the Advancement of Science): Whereas in Darfur, if a village is wiped out you're going to see traces of that village for years to come. In Burma, if a village is wiped out, it's essentially going to be grown over with that vegetation within a year or so, probably even sooner.

KELEMEN: So in some cases, AAAS had to work quickly. When he was tipped off from local human rights activists - the Free Burma Rangers - that a military campaign had targeted villages in April of this year, Bromley had satellite images taken of the places they mentioned. The pictures showed that villages were either partially or completely burned. His report also shows refugee camps in Thailand growing in size and seems to back up report of forced relocation inside Myanmar.

Mr. BROMLEY: The reporting tells us that people are being moved from kind of outlying areas towards the military camps, so they can be more closely watched. Overall, we found 31 new villages appearing around a military camp in about a five-year period.

KELEMEN: Aung Din of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, which also worked on the study, says he's sending the findings to China, which has influence in Myanmar and to other U.N. members. He also wants to make it clear to Myanmar's military rulers today that while they shut down Internet access and try to seal off the country from outside observers, there are other ways to watch.

Mr. AUNG DIN (Policy Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma): We are trying to send a message to the military junta that we are watching it from the sky.

KELEMEN: This project was aimed at looking at the conflict in the east, but Lars Bromley says he's already paid for new satellite images of major cities in Myanmar to check on military deployments around Buddhist monasteries. Monks have been at the forefront of the protests. He says the satellites fly over Myanmar about every day and a half. And though it's cloudy season, he's hoping for a break in the clouds to get a clear view.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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