At least eight people were killed in volatile western Myanmar on Wednesday, the latest in near daily civilian casualties amid a conflict between government soldiers and the rebel Arakan Army that has intensified even as the nation shuts down to fight the coronavirus.
Among those killed in shell blasts and shootings were four civilians in Chin state, including two children, and four in Rakhine state, local residents said Thursday. The battle zone in the 16-month-old conflict straddles the border of the two states, both home to ethnic minorities.
An artillery shell hit the grounds of a branch of government-owned Myanma Economic Bank in Chin state’s Paletwa township, killing a 25-year-old bank clerk, her four-year-old daughter, and the 10-year-old son of another bank employee, locals said. Two other bank employees were injured in the blast.
In a separate incident in Paletwa, a 48-year-old woman who was working in a vegetable garden in Meelatwa village also was killed by an artillery blast, residents said.
Myanmar and Arakan forces had been fighting all day in the mountains near the eastern bank of the Kaladan River, which runs through Paletwa, before the artillery shell exploded, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
The Myanmar military’s Commander-in-Chief’s Office said the AA was behind the incident, while AA spokesman Khine Thukha blamed the military’s No. 289 Light Infantry Division.
Soldiers from the division have been targeting civilians in Paletwa township as well as in adjacent northern Rakhine state, he said.
Khine Thukha also said that the AA would cooperate with international organizations to expose the “war crimes” committed by government soldiers.
In Rakhine’s Minbya township, eyewitnesses reported seeing Myanmar soldiers deliberately shoot and kill two men on motorbikes at around 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Kyaw Myat Tun, a carpenter, and Than Tun, a motorbike mechanic, both about 31 years old, were residents of Minbya town, they said.
A witness who was nearby where the shooting occurred and who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons said the military fired on the pair after ordering them to stop.
The two men and others residents were still outside because the local dusk-to-dawn curfew did not begin until 9 p.m., he said.
“And nobody noticed that this military brigade had entered the town,” he said. “No one could possibly know. They entered from the north side of town and moved to the south side. These men were riding their motorbikes from the opposite direction. They started firing on them when they encountered them face to face.”
The witnessed surmised that the two men may have been too scared to stop immediately and continued to ride on.
“Then they fired their guns and these men were killed on the spot,” he added.
Explosives, detonator 'found'
A statement issued by the Myanmar military said Kyaw Myat Tun and Than Tun were AA operatives dressed in civilian clothes who ignored orders to stop their motorbikes as they headed towards Ramaung Bridge.
When they sped up, soldiers fired warning shots at them, but later found them dead with a nearby plastic bag containing three rod fuses used in explosive devices and detonator, the statement said.
Thein Maung, the father of Kyaw Myat Tun, said his son did not have any ties to the AA.
Local villagers told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the military brigade had been firing artillery daily into areas east of the bridge, where a World Health Organization worker was shot Monday and later died of his wounds.
Residents also said that the soldiers who shot Kyaw Myat Tun and Than Tun had been attacked by AA mines near Khaung Laung and Sanbalay villages as they moved along the main highway earlier on Wednesday.
Following the blasts, the soldiers conducted clearance operations in nearby villages, they said.
Eisu Ali, a 16-year-old Rohinyga from Minbya’s Sanbalay village was killed and two other teenagers were injured by Myanmar Army artillery fire following the second mine attack, according to village elder Kyaw Naing.
The two who were wounded — Nu Khadu, 18, and Rawfee, 14 — were taken to Myaung Bwe Hospital early Thursday, he said.
“The girl was hit by a stray bullet while she was at home,” Kyaw Naing said. “Two young boys were injured by the artillery blast. One of them later died, and the other one was seriously injured. They were taking cows to the pastures.”
“The injuries were caused by heavy artillery blasts fired by the government military,” he added. “They encountered a mine attack as they were mobilizing. Afterwards, they moved on and fired into the village.”
Concurrently, San Kyaw, 61, from Nayan village was wounded in the legs during the shooting incident in Minbya, but later died at a hospital, according to a community elder who said that Myanmar soldiers fired into the village after one of the mine explosions.
RFA tried to reach Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun for comment about the attacks in Paletwa and Minbya, but he was not available.
Scores of civilians have died and tens of thousands of others have been displaced by fighting between Myanmar and Arakan forces in Rakhine and Chin states since early 2019.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.