A truck carrying International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) supplies was hit on Thursday by a mine explosion in Kyauktaw township in western Myanmar’s strife-torn Rakhine state, a spokesman from the humanitarian group said, with both the national military and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) accusing each other of staging the attack.
The ICRC hired several privately owned trucks to transport food for displaced civilians from Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon to the aid organization’s warehouse in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township, said Zaw Win, spokesman for the ICRC’s Yangon office.
After the truck hit the mine near the township’s Mahamuni Road junction, the attackers fired shots at the first vehicle in the convoy, shattering the windshield and damaging the body of the truck, though no one was killed or injured in the blast and the shooting, he said.
Both Zaw Win and an ICRC official from Sittwe said the trucks did not bear the humanitarian group’s logos and were not carrying any of its staffers.
When RFA asked Zaw Win why the convoy was traveling around 8 p.m. in Kyauktaw township, where the government has declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew, he said the organization did not instruct the trucking company when to travel.
“The ICRC’s relief supplies are usually transported by private carriers,” he said. “We didn’t instruct them when to travel and when not to. They travel whenever it is convenient.”
Zaw Win also said the ICRC does not know which group was responsible for the attack.
“The ICRC is providing humanitarian assistance,” he said. “We never directly deal with any political or armed groups. We never engage or discuss with them under any political conditions. We only focus on providing assistance to the people affected by the armed conflicts.”
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said the mine attack was carried out by the AA, an ethnic Rakhine army fighting for greater autonomy in the state.
“AA insurgents detonated three mines by remote control and fired from small arms,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service, adding that it was the third time an attack occurred at the junction, with other blasts happening on April 15 and 29.
“We found that the mines used in these attacks are all the same type,” Zaw Min Tun said.
“The attack on the ICRC convoy is a violation of human rights and an act of terrorism,” he said. “It is an intentional attack on civilian targets since these trucks are obviously civilian trucks.”
AA spokesman Khine Thukha blamed the Myanmar military for the explosion, saying that there were no Arakan soldiers near the site of the blast — only government troops.
“There were two Myanmar military columns near that site, [and] areas in Waitharli, Pauktaw Byin, and Kyauk Kyat villages were occupied by Myanmar troops yesterday,” he told RFA. “There were no AA troops in that region.”
“We don’t have any reason to attack international humanitarian aid groups like the ICRC,” he said. “We have given orders to our troops [about this] down to the bottom level.”
Myanmar forces are now conducting a mine clearance operation in the area around the Mahamuni Road junction where the attacks occurred.
The ICRC, which has offices in Sittwe, Mrauk-U, and Maungdaw townships in Rakhine state, said it would continue its relief activities in Rakhine to provide food supplies to some of the tens of thousands of people in the region displaced by the armed conflict.
Rakhine groups petition president
Also on Friday, more than 100 organizations sent an open letter to Myanmar President Win Myint urging him to directly intervene in the conflict and bring it to an end by holding talks with the warring sides without preconditions, said Myo Kyaw, the general secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), a political party active in Rakhine state.
The letter calls on both Myanmar forces and the AA to immediately end their battles and engage in political dialogue to find a solution to the Rakhine crisis. It also suggests that the government scrap laws and orders in which it has branded the AA an outlaw organization and terrorist group, he said.
“Instead of naming the AA as insurgents and terrorists, they should be accepted with mutual respect as a dialogue partner and political opponent,” said Ngwe Lin, a member of the Rakhine crisis negotiation team. “That’s what are suggesting to the president.”
The groups sent the letter because the Myanmar Army said earlier at a press conference that it would cease hostilities if the president issued an order to do so.
“We heard that the Tatmadaw's [Myanmar military] True News Information Team said it would stop if the president wanted it to stop,” he told RFA. “That means the [military] is currently allowed to fight. So, we sent an open letter to the president because we want him to handle the issue of Rakhine himself.”
But AA spokesman Khine Thukha said State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and not Win Myint, should issue the order, because she instructed state forces to put down the AA following deadly attacks in January that killed 13 policemen.
“The military officially stated that Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi had ordered the elimination of the AA,” he said. “If it is so, then [she] should be able to order an end to the fighting.”
“The current offensive should be stopped, and [the opponents] need to discuss a way to find a political solution,” he added.
Myanmar military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said he recognizes the need for peace, but added that the insurgency is getting worse.
“Our position is that the fate of Myanmar will not be better if we allow them [the AA] into the white area,” he said, referring to non-insurgent-active areas.
“If this happens, more insurgent groups can emerge in the future,” he said. “That’s why the government and the Tatmadaw are approaching this with a long-term view.”
Some observers said that the demands of the 123 organizations are unrealistic, however.
“I don’t see this issue as something that the president can sort out,” said Myanmar political analyst Than Soe Naing. “The AA has operations in northern Rakhine, so they engaged in fighting with the Tatmadaw.”
Myo Nyunt, spokesman for the ruling civilian-led National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said officials prefer dialogue over armed conflict.
“We prefer holding talks at the table instead of having fighting among our ethnic groups,” he said. “But the senior leadership has to decide for themselves whether it’s feasible or not.”
Clashes ensue in Shan state
Besides the armed conflict in Rakhine state, the Myanmar military is caught up in hostilities in other parts of the country, such as restive Shan state where skirmishs with another ethnic armed group, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and its armed wing the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), raged on Wednesday and Thursday.
The clashes ensued over accusations by both sides that the other army had encroached upon its territory.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said, “We fought the RCSS because it entered an area where its soldiers are not permitted to go.”
RCSS spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sai Oo said the government army keeps adding more troops to the war zone, even though Shan forces had withdrawn from the area.
“We engaged in fighting with the government army on June 26,” he said. “They got news that we were holding an event to destroy illegal drugs, and they came into our area and attacked us.”
But he added that the two sides would soon engage in dialogue over the fresh clashes.
“We are going to talk with the government army,” Sai Oo said. “We have already asked them for an informal meeting. I think we are going to meet during the second week of July.”
Political analyst Than Soe Naing said the fighting would stop only if both sides held discussions.
“Both sides should negotiate with each other,” he said. “If they don’t, the fighting will continue.”
Reported by Wai Mar Tun, Zin Mar Win, and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung, Nandar Chann, and Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.