UPDATED at 9:11 A.M. EST on 2017-12-11
Four Myanmar army soldiers were injured on Friday when their convoy hit three mines in Myebon township in western Myanmar’s turbulent Rakhine state, police and state government officials said.
The mines exploded as four military trucks from Army Brigade 33 passed through the township just an hour after Rakhine's Chief-Minister Nyi Pu and government officials traveled through the same area, according to a Facebook post by the Rakhine Gazette, the information service of the state government.
There was no information about who may have planted the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or a motive, though township police said they are investigating the scene.
In addition to the conflict in northern Rakhine pitting Buddhists against Muslim Rohingya, the Arakan Army, a militia formed in 2009 to protect the interests of the local Rakhine ethnic group, is engaged in fighting with the government army, including in a long-running conflict in northern Myanmar's Kachin State.
On Thursday, two IEDs were found in the Htammayit New Town area of Mrauk-U township, the office of Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing announced.
“We don’t know yet who did it, but what we can say is that people who don’t want instability and peace in Rakhine state did it,” said Min Aung, the state minister of municipal affairs.
“These people want local residents to become worried, but I want to tell locals not to worry because many mines are being found these days,” he said. “Many border guards and police are deployed in northern Rakhine state, although we can’t say that the number is enough.”
Given the proliferation of IEDs in Rakhine, authorities are working on clearing mines along the Yangon-Sittwe Highway, the major thoroughfare that connects the country’s largest commercial city to Rakhine state’s capital, said Khin Win Aung, head of Kazukhine village.
Mines and material for making explosives are also being unearthed in remote areas.
On Tuesday, a group of girls found bomb-making materials near the deserted Muslim village of Kyaut Pandu in violence-wracked Maungdaw township.
The Rohingya village has stood empty since its residents fled a brutal military crackdown in response to deadly attacks on police outposts by the Muslim militant group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on Aug. 25.
An estimated 646,000 Rohingya have fled Maungdaw and nearby Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships across the border to Bangladesh to escape killings, arson, torture, and rape, by security forces.
Thousands of ethnic Rakhine, Hindus, Mro, and other ethnic minority groups also have fled the area, fearing attacks by the Muslim militants who exploded improvised bombs, set fire to villages, and launched additional attacks on police outposts in Maungdaw after the Aug. 25 ambush.
Though Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed an agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees who want to return to northern Rakhine, rights groups have warned that the untenable situation on the ground and continued discrimination against the group may not bode well for those who go back.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday that the Myanmar government must restore peace and stability in the region, ensure full humanitarian access, and address the root causes of displacement before any Rohingya refugees can return voluntarily.
On Tuesday, Htin Lynn, Myanmar’s permanent representative to the U.N. in Geneva, said that Myanmar would begin repatriating the Rohingya within two months.
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Thinn Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
Correction: An earlier version of the story erroneously referred to "neighboring" Kachin state. The state is in northern Myanmar and does not border Rakhine state.