A teenager was killed and a dozen other civilians were injured Thursday amid crossfire as government soldiers responded to landmine attacks in western Myanmar’s war-ridden Rakhine state, where civilians are dying violent deaths even as their region braces for the contagious coronavirus, local residents said.
Myanmar troops fired at rebel Arakan Army soldiers following explosions of remote-controlled mines near Kishpanadi Bridge in Kyauktaw township, killing a 13-year-old ethnic Rakhine boy and injuring six ethnic Rakhines, five Rohingya Muslims, and one Burmese construction worker, they said Friday.
The deceased teenager’s father, mother, sister, and uncle were among the injured, and three construction workers who were at the scene are missing, locals added.
Among the injured Rohingya were three women and two men. One woman was sent to Apaukwa Hospital in Kyauktaw township, while the others are being treated at a village clinic, they said.
The Burmese man who was injured while working at a construction site near the bridge was sent to Sittwe General Hospital, said Soe Min of Phyu Sin Metta Social Services, a civil society group.
Locals said they heard the sounds of light and heavy weapons fire around 4 p.m. Thursday, which lasted for an hour.
“We heard noise from the bridge. Our village is close to it. Five villagers got injured due to fighting near the bridge yesterday evening,” said a resident of Pikethe village who did not want to be named out of fear for his safety.
Another villager who also requested anonymity of the same reason confirmed the artillery fire.
“We heard noise from opening fire first, and then two explosions from heavy cannons around 4:30 p.m. yesterday,” the villager said
“Some boys ran into the village and said that the government army opened fire from the bridge,” he said. “Three Rakhine construction workers are now missing.”
Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said the remote-controlled mine attacks on government soldiers occurred near the bridge at about 4:30 p.m. and near a highway station from where the AA had fired on government soldiers about four or five times in the past.
In response, the army began a counteroffensive against the Arakan Army (AA) at the highway military station, he said.
Zaw Min Tun also noted that the government army has served in Rakhine state since the 1990s and that fighting in the region began only after the AA was formed in 2009.
AA blames Myanmar Army
Khine Thukha, spokesman for the AA, a mostly ethnic Rakhine force seeking greater autonomy for Rakhine people in the state, said there had been no clash between the AA and Myanmar soldiers.
“There was no fighting in that area yesterday,” he said. “The government army is conducting targeted attacks on Rakhine ethnics, and it is a war crime.”
Khine Thukha ignored a question about whether AA forces had disguised themselves as civilians to attack Myanmar soldiers near villages.
Myanmar and Arakan forces have been engaged in intensified hostilities in northern Rakhine state for the past 15 months, leaving hundreds of civilians dead and displacing about 157,000 others, according to the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a local humanitarian relief group.
During that time, 34 civilians have died and 166 have been injured in Kyautkaw township alone, according to list compiled by the Arakan National Party (ANP), a political party representing the interests of ethnic Rakhine people in the state.
In March, the Myanmar government declared the AA an unlawful association and terrorist organization.
The AA and two other armed ethnic organizations declared a temporary cease-fire during the month of April as the country battled the spread of the coronavirus, but the Myanmar military rejected it.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.