Four villagers were killed and six injured in fighting between ethnic Arakan Army soldiers and government troops in Myanmar’s Rakhine state beginning Sunday, with more than 800 villagers now sheltering in Buddhist monasteries, local residents said.
The fighting, which took place in an area between Shwe Tamar and Sapar Htar villages in Rakhine’s Minbya township, also left soldiers killed on both sides, spokesmen for the AA and Myanmar’s military said.
Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service, Sapar Htar village leader Myo Zin Aung said the villagers killed and hurt were struck by a mortar shell that fell between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. Monday near a monastery compound in Sapar Htar.
“The explosion killed four people and injured six others,” Myo Zin Aung said, adding, “The injured were sent to Myinba Hospital.”
“The situation has now calmed down, and over 100 people are now taking refuge in the monastery,” he said.
Meanwhile, in nearby Shwe Tamar, five villagers including a five-year-old child suffered gunshot wounds from stray bullets in fighting that began around 2:00 p.m. Sunday in an area between Shwe Tamar and Aung Taing villages, Shwe Tamar village leader Kyaw Thein told RFA.
Over 800 local people have now fled their villages and are taking shelter in a nearby monastery, Kyaw Thein said.
“The villagers are too scared to live in their homes,” he said.
Those hurt in Sunday’s fighting included a woman from Maung Bwe village injured by gunfire, and a five-year-old boy from Aung Taing who was shot in the chest, Maung Bwe village leader Maung Thaung Shwe said.
“He was hit on the right side of his chest, and the bullet came out through his back,” he said.
The boy was left in a serious condition, Maung Thaung Shwe said, adding, “The doctor tells us that he’s still struggling, and that he needs intensive care.”
“They are still shooting,” he said. “Stray bullets are still coming into the village, but nothing from heavy weapons,” he said.
Soldiers also killed
Speaking to RFA on Monday, Arakan Army spokesperson Khaing Thukha said that three AA soldiers had been killed and four injured in what he described as heavy fighting on Sunday.
“Yesterday, in the area between Shwe Tamar village and Aung Taing village in Minbya township, our commando troops fought the [Myanmar] military’s KhaMaYa 417 Light Infantry Battalion, which is based in Ann township under the command of Light Infantry Division 99.”
“Gunfire was exchanged between both sides, and the fighting lasted from 2:00 p.m. until maybe as late as 9:00 p.m. Three soldiers from the Arakan Army lost their lives for the fatherland, and four others were injured,” he said.
“The battle continues today.”
Because of ongoing clashes in the area, no updates on casualty figures were available Monday, Khaing Thukha said.
Since fighting between Myanmar government troops and AA fighters in Rakhine state spiked in early January, 52 civilians have been killed by gunfire, artillery explosions, and improvised explosive devices, and more than 70 people have been injured.
Villagers still held
Also on Monday, an ethnic Chin group renewed calls to the AA to release 52 villagers it abducted from Paletwa township in western Myanmar’s Chin state during a clash with Myanmar forces earlier this year that spilled over from fighting in Rakhine.
Family members have had no contact with those held for the last four months, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) said.
“The AA abducted 52 villagers from Kin Talin village,” CHRO information officer Salai Taya said. “They are still in detention, and we don’t know why.”
“We would like to appeal for their unconditional release,” he said.
Around 17 school-aged children are among those being held, according to CHRO estimates.
“These kids were separated from their families,” Kin Talin villager said, speaking to RFA. “Now, the new academic term has begun, and they are missing classes. We appeal to the head of the group that abducted them to let them go.”
Also speaking to RFA, AA spokesperson Khaing Tukha denied the Arakan Army had abducted the group or were holding them against their will.
“We rescued them, with good intentions, when they were in trouble,” he said. “We have no reason to detain them, and they are now earning their living in the border area.”
“If Chin Human Rights Organization members want to go fetch them back, they are free to do so,” he said.
Hostilities between the AA and Myanmar forces intensified in early January following attacks by Arakan fighters on police outposts in northern Rakhine state, prompting more than 100 battles between the two sides in the following months.
The Arakan Army is an ethnic Rakhine armed organization that seeks greater autonomy in Rakhine, which borders Chin state.
Reported by Thant Zin Oo and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Richard Finney.