In late March, as tension between Burma's Buddhists and its Muslim minority escalated, a street vendor and a customer in the city of Meiktila began quarreling over a piece of gold. Somehow, the Buddhist customer received a head injury, possibly from the Muslim vendor. Before long, Buddhist mobs were attacking Muslim-run gold stalls. A group of Muslims then stabbed a Buddhist monk to death, apparently in revenge. And then it was chaos.
Security forces reportedly stood idly by as the fighting destroyed entire neighborhoods, with Buddhist rioters burning Muslims' homes and killing them in the streets. Several were burned alive; one was reportedly dragged from his feet by a motorcycle before being beaten to death. After three bloody days in which as many as 200 people were killed, the government finally sent in the army.
Human Rights Watch, as part of an extensive investigation into the violence in Meiktila, has released before-and-after satellite images showing the breathtaking extent of the damage, in which entire neighborhoods have been effectively wiped off the map.
This first set of satellite images shows damage in a neighborhood west of downtown Meiktila (there's a map further down this page; this section is labeled "main damage area 1"). Those fuzzy or white spots in the "after" image are the remains of destroyed houses. This image alone shows a staggering 442 homes apparently destroyed; an entire community.
This second set of images, labeled "main damage area 2" on the map, shows 342 buildings destroyed, most of them residential.
As you can see on the below map, pulled from Human Rights Watch's report, there's a sizable military base located right in Meiktila. It's awfully close to the "main damage area 2," so much of which was destroyed by days of apparently undisturbed and horrific street violence. Why didn't the military intervene?
The violence, Human Rights Watch warns, is part of a larger trend of "The spread of anti-Islamic sentiment and religious intolerance," which it calls "a serious challenge to the rights of Muslims in Burma."