Nearly 30 attackers were killed and 18 arrested in weekend clashes with national army troops in western Myanmar’s volatile Rakhine state where soldiers have been accused of abusing Rohingya Muslims and setting their homes ablaze, government media reported on Monday.
The area has been under heavy security since Oct. 9 when nine officers were killed in an attack on three guard stations along the border with Bangladesh, which many officials have blamed on local insurgents backed by a militant Islamic group.
One of the attackers was injured in the clash with the military column in Maungdaw township in the northern part of the state, according to local media reports on Monday.
When the same military unit on Sunday found about 50 burned houses in Gwason village, seven villagers attacked it with machetes, prompting soldiers to shoot six of them dead, according to reports in government media and the military newspaper Myawaddy.
The military column also discovered 60 burned houses in the township’s Dargyizartaung village on Sunday where about 20 villagers attacked them with machetes and wooden clubs. Soldiers opened fire in defense, killing 19 of them, the reports said.
Three more bodies were found in the vicinity of the two villages, the reports said.
Some reports by international news agencies, however, put the total number attackers killed at above 30, and quoted residents who said the Rohingya villagers who died were unarmed.
The number of dead in the villages and other details of the clashes cannot be independently verified because Myanmar’s military has not permitted news organizations or other monitors, domestic or foreign, to operate in the Maungdaw area.
Muslim residents flee
Ko Aung, the administrator of Kyeinchaung village, where communities of different religions live, said the weekend clashes caused many Muslims to flee the villages, and about 90 households had returned as of Monday.
“The military column had to open fire because armed villagers tried to attack them with machetes and clubs,” he said. “Eighteen armed villagers were arrested.”
Zaw Tun, director of Wan Lark Rural Development Foundation, an NGO that is providing food to displaced people in Maungdaw township, said that the fighting is preventing aid workers from reaching some villages.
“We have been helping internally displaced persons (IDPs) with food mainly,” he said. “Because of the fighting these days, getting help to IDPs has been delayed. Normally, we are allowed to go and help IDPs, but because of the fighting these days, we can’t go into some villages.”
Local residents have told Zaw Tun that though security in Maungdaw is adequate, villagers are concerned for their safety, and most of them want to move to safer places.
“When we go to the villages to help the villagers, we have to ask security guards to help us,” he said. “We can’t go to some places to help IDPs now, but the authorities have told us that they will allow us to go to these places as soon as security has cleared them.”
Religious and ethnic tensions in Rakhine have surged since the Oct. 9 attacks, the worst tension since communal violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in 2012.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.