Residents of a village in western Myanmar’s war-ravaged Rakhine state on Tuesday accused government soldiers of torching fishermen’s huts near the place where the rebel Arakan Army attacked two naval vessels earlier this month, though national forces denied the allegation.
Kyaukmaw Paik Seik village in Myebon township, comprised of about 10 fishermen’s houses and a monastery, was the site of the rocket attack on July 19 that killed an army captain and two naval personnel based in southern Rakhine’s Kyaukphyu township.
Villagers fled the community following the incident, fearing a local outbreak of hostilities between the two warring sides that have already spread throughout the northern part of the state.
But area residents reported that eight of their homes were burned down Tuesday morning.
Pe Than, a lower house lawmaker from the hard-line Buddhist Arakan National Party who represents Rakhine’s Myebon township, said he could not say for sure who burned the houses, though military troops were in the area.
“Around 8 a.m., the houses were burning,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. I don’t know who burned them. People are talking about who could have burned them.”
“There is a military regiment present in the village,” he said. “That’s all I know. I don’t know if the battle caused the fire. It is hard to say what caused the fire.”
AA spokesman Khine Thukha said Myanmar soldiers torched the houses, committing a war crime.
Area residents said they took photos and recorded videos from a distance as soldiers set fire to the structures, but they told RFA that they could not post them online because of a month-long government-ordered internet blackout in parts of Rakhine and neighboring Chin states where fighting has occurred.
Colonel Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Command responsible for Rakhine state, said Myanmar troops did not destroy homes in the fishing village.
“We didn’t burn these houses,” he told RFA. “There was a clearance operation in that area. We don’t know who burned these houses. Our troops didn’t burn anything.”
Residents of nearby Pauktu Taung village said about 70 Myanmar troops arrived near their village on July 20, a day after the attack on the navy vessels.
About 1,500 villagers then fled from Pauktu Taung to Kanhtaunggyi town after the soldiers fired artillery during the night, they said.
“The villagers were terrified and fled as the military fired both light and heavy artillery at random at about 9 p.m.,” said a Pauktu Taung resident who declined to give his name out of fear of possible arrest.
Knowing that government soldiers have arrested and beaten villagers in other communities in northern Rakhine state on suspicion of having connections to the AA, locals from Pauktu Taung feared the same fate and ran away, he said.
Residents from villages in Myebon and Ann townships are now fleeing to nearby villages because they fear that military troops will enter their communities, he said.
Displaced residents from Pauktu Taung village are now living temporarily in Kangyihtaung monastery, said Kyaw Naing from the Rakha Wuntha Foundation, which on limited funds is helping villagers affected by the armed conflict.
“We have to scrape by to feed them,” he said. “We reported the situation to the town and township administrations, but they haven’t done anything to help them. We primarily need assistance for food supplies, medicine, and mosquito nets.”
More than 34,000 civilians have been displaced by clashes between the AA and Myanmar forces since an uptick in fighting in the region in late 2018.
Reported by Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.