One child was killed and two other villagers were injured by gunfire from government soldiers in war-torn Rakhine state’s Kyauktaw township Sunday evening, amid wider armed conflict with a rebel ethnic military in Myanmar's western region, local residents said.
The shooting, which occurred in an area between Myauk Taung and Marlar Taung villages east of the Kaladan River, left 10-year-old Athein Chae dead, said Aung Hla Sein, the administrative head of Myauk Taung village.
“There is a pagoda near our village,” he said. “We heard gun shots around 6 p.m. and they stopped around 7 p.m. A young girl who lived in the northern side of our village was shot and killed.”
“Villagers said the shooting was by the military in response to a recent mine attack on their troops,” he said.
Colonel Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Command responsible for Rakhine state, said that government forces engaged in a firefight with the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine army that seeks greater autonomy in the state, after rebel soldiers attacked an army convoy with mines and fired on troops from Myauk Taung village.
“The military convoy was passing through the area near Marlar Taung village,” he said. “While the troops conducted a clearance operation, AA troops fired at them from inside the village. Then, [our] troops shot back at them.”
“The military wouldn’t have fired without a reason,” he said. “Because there was shooting from both sides, the bullet could have been from either side. We can’t tell whose bullet killed the girl for sure.”
AA spokesman Khine Thukha said Arakan troops denied that AA troops attacked the convoy and said they had not engaged in any battles near the villages.
“This is just another fabricated story from the Myanmar military to cover up its consistent war crimes,” he said. “There have been many incidents in which it fired shots into villages. There were even shootings by the military in Mrauk-U township where there were no battles.”
“The evidence is everywhere,” he said. “There were no battles in that area yesterday.”
Villagers, however, said that the shooting was in retaliation for the mine attacks on the military convoy that comprised more than 50 vehicles as it headed toward Kyauktaw from Paletwa township in neighboring Chin state.
Eyewitnesses to the shooting said Athein Chae was caught in the crossfire while she was on her way back from visiting a Buddhist monk who resided in the area between the two villages.
One villager, who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation, said Athein Chae was walking with her younger brother who was also injured in the shooting.
“The two siblings were in the area,” he said. “I asked the younger brother of the deceased girl what had happened. The boy said they [soldiers] fired at them after yelling ‘Enemy, enemy.’”
“As the girl was shot, the boy ran back to his home,” he said. “It was the small arms fire that hit the girl from behind.”
Some artillery shells from the clash fell and exploded in a monastery compound and near some homes in Marlar Taung village, injuring a three-year-old boy and a 75-year-old man, villagers said.
The boy, Khine Linn Htay, was taken to Sittwe Hospital for emergency care, while the man, Aung Ni, is receiving treatment in Kyauktaw Hospital, they said.
Marlar Taung village is a half-mile from Myauk Taung village where the shootings occurred.
Since fighting between the Myanmar and Arakan armies spiked in early January in Rakhine state, nearly 40 civilians have been killed by artillery explosions and improvised explosive devices, and about 70 people have been injured.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.