Two members of Myanmar's armed forces were killed in an ambush on troops in the turbulent western state of Rakhine, the government said on Sunday as a spokesman said authorities would investigate new reports of army abuses against civilians of the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay told RFA's Myanmar Service that the attacks on Saturday killed an officer and a soldier.
"A military column met about 500 villagers armed with swords and spears near Pwintbyu Chaung village and as the troops tried to confront them, terrorists hiding in nearby bushes by the roadside began firing with guns. The Commander was hit on his jaw," he said.
Earlier the Associated Press quoted an Information Ministry statement saying government troops were ambushed Saturday morning by about 60 attackers armed with guns, knives and spears. It said one soldier and at least six attackers were killed.
The statement said an army officer died in a separate battle against 500 armed men, which ended when two air force helicopters joined the fight.
The statements from the government came as Human Rights Watch published fresh high-definition satellite imagery the rights group said showed widespread fire-related destruction in ethnic Rohingya villages in Rakhine State.
“New satellite images not only confirm the widespread destruction of Rohingya villages but show that it was even greater than we first thought,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Burmese authorities should promptly establish a UN-assisted investigation as a first step toward ensuring justice and security for the victims,” the New York-based group quoted Adams as saying.
Human Rights Watch said it had identified 430 destroyed buildings, large burn scars and destroyed tree cover in three villages of northern Maungdaw district. High resolution satellite imagery recorded on the mornings of October 22, November 3, and November 10 showed 85 buildings were destroyed in the village of Pyaung Pyit, 245 in Kyet Yoe Pyin, and 100 in Wa Peik, it said.
Zaw Htay tolf RFA "in this 430 houses case, the incidents are all linked to villages in the area and we will carry out a thorough investigation."
He said the border guards and military forces were told to adhere to three guidelines in Maungdaw: "Carry out operations with with extra care, work in accordance with the law and avoid committing human rights violations."
Adams of Human Rights Watch, however, said those assertions could not be verified without access to the troubled Maungdaw area, which lies near Myanmar's border with Bangladesh.
“The Burmese armed forces are not only keeping independent observers out of affected Rohingya areas, they apparently aren’t even telling their own government what happened,” Adams said.
“The authorities need to allow the UN, the media, and rights monitors unfettered access into the area to determine what happened and what needs to be done.”
Coordinated attacks on three border guard posts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships on Oct. 9 left nine officers dead and led to clashes between security forces and armed groups of men in the following days. About 40 people, including soldiers, border guards, and attackers, have been killed.
Myanmar officials have blamed the violence on a militant group of Rohingya Muslims, a largely repressed ethnic minority group in Myanmar that suffers routine discrimination and lives in the northern part of Rakhine where the attacks occurred.
Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Paul Eckert.