The bodies of two ethnic Rakhines and one Rohingya Muslim civilian were discovered Monday in Mrauk-U township in western Myanmar’s war-ravaged Rakhine state, a local relief group said, following two days of clashes between government forces and the rebel Arakan Army that left 11 villagers dead.
The Rakhine Ethnics Congress (REC), a group tallying the number of civilians displaced by armed conflict in the state that intensified in late 2018, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the bruised bodies were found under a bridge near Shantaung village after a battle near Myaungbwe village on Feb. 29.
“There are bruises and dark spots on the bodies, [and] it looks like they were beaten,” he said. “We found gunshot wounds on one, and another had cut marks on the neck.”
Tun Thar Sein, a lawmaker from Mrauk-U township, said whichever armed group took the civilians away and killed them should explain why they are now dead.
“Some said these civilians were taken by the military after they were interrogated on the street,” he told RFA. “Some say they had been taken from their homes. The authorities concerned should provide an explanation of what happened — if they were still alive while in detention or died during interrogation.”
RFA was unable to reach either Colonel Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the Myanmar’s military’s Western Command responsible for Rakhine state, or Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier Gen Zaw Min Tun for comment.
Area residents said the fighting began after a landmine planted by the AA exploded when it was triggered by a military convoy on Feb. 29.
Seven civilians were killed in the same day, including two who died of heart attacks, they said.
One villager who saw the three bodies under the bridge said one was that of a Rohingya.
Another corpse was discovered on the farm near the village on Sunday, bringing the total death toll to 11, residents said.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha accused Myanmar soldiers of taking away the three civilians and killing them.
The REC said a total of 15 Rohingya and three Rakhine villagers were injured during the fighting near Myaungbwe village, while six Rohingya and seven Rakhine villagers are missing.
Both Muslims and Buddhists live in the village.
Unilateral cease-fire extended
On March 1, the Three Brotherhood Alliance of ethnic armies — the AA, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) — announced that they were extending a unilateral cease-fire for 25 more days to help create a peaceful environment in the run-up to general elections in November.
They also said the extension is meant to implement peace talks to enable them to sign the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement and to provide collective assistance to overcome the coronavirus outbreak.
The TNLA and MNDAA are active in northern and eastern Shan state and oppose the Myanmar Army’s ongoing military operations in territory they control.
In a statement, the groups called on Myanmar forces to immediately end its attacks on them.
“The Myanmar Army is urged to stop all of their one-sided offensive assaults against the revolutionary organizations of ethnic nationalities immediately and to sign a truce agreement with the revolutionary organizations of ethnic nationalities as soon as possible by showing [the] political will to carry out negotiations and [a] cease-fire declaration,” the statement said.
It also said that the three rebel armies will take defensive action if they are attacked by government soldiers.
Dozens of civilians have died in fighting in Rakhine state since December 2018. The REC estimates that about 110,000 villagers have been displaced since the beginning of the year.
A brutal military-led crackdown on Muslim communities in Rakhine in 2017 left thousands of Rohingya dead and forced more than 740,000 others across the border and into neighboring Bangladesh. United Nations investigators have said that the violence was carried out with “genocidal intent,” though Myanmar has denied that charge.
Some of the 600,000 Rohingya still living in Myanmar, including tens of thousands who reside in internal displacement camps, have been caught up in hostilities between Myanmar forces and the mostly ethnic Rakhine and Buddhist AA, which seeks greater autonomy in the region.
Reported by Phyu Phyu Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.