Airstrike kills woman on Myanmar-Bangladesh border

Three bombs were dropped while villagers were sleeping, residents said.
By RFA Burmese
2024.05.21
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The town of Buthidaung in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is seen May 29, 2023, left, and at right on May 21, 2024, after fire destroyed much of the town. (Planet Labs with RFA analysis)

Updated May 21, 2024, 03:41 p.m. ET.

A Myanmar junta airstrike near the border with Bangladesh on Tuesday killed one civilian and injured 11, residents told Radio Free Asia, the latest casualties in a region that has seen some of the country’s most intense fighting in recent weeks.

Junta forces launched air attacks after insurgents from the Arakan Army assaulted the military regime’s Border Guard Force near Maungdaw town on Monday. In response, aircraft dropped three bombs on two nearby villages in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw township.

Since November, the Arakan Army has captured eight townships across Rakhine state and has launched several offensives in other areas.

Fighter jets bombed Shwe Baho and Baw Di Kone villages at around 4 a.m., one resident, who declined to be identified in fear of reprisals, told RFA. 

“A young woman died in Shwe Baho. She is a university student and was taking refuge in the village. The whole family was fleeing the battle but they were injured,” he said. “The Arakan Army is attacking Lay Mile’s Border Guard Force, so [the junta] bombarded all areas and surrounding villages.”

The dead woman, Pan Ei Pyu, 22, also worked at a social assistance group, residents said. The wounded ranged in age from 5 years to 71, residents said. 

Myanmar’s junta has yet to release any information on the attack. Rakhine state’s junta spokesperson, Hla Thein, did not answer calls from RFA.

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AA advances

Forces of the junta, which seized power in an early 2021 coup, have lost territory in several parts of the country since late last year when militia groups, formed by pro-democracy activists and allied ethnic minority insurgent groups fighting for self-determination went on the offensive.

Despite making advances, the junta’s opponents have no air power, leaving them, and villages in areas in which they operate, vulnerable to airstrikes.

Four civilians were killed and six were wounded between May 14 and 19 when the junta bombed villages in southern Maungdaw township, residents said.

On Saturday, the Arakan Army announced it had captured all junta camps in Buthidaung, a township along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

Hours earlier, the group was accused of attacking a school with a drone where members of the Rohingya minority, a mostly Muslim community that has faced persecution for decades, were sheltering. Eighteen people were killed and more than 200 were wounded, residents said.

The Arakan Army, in its Saturday statement, did not mention the Rohingya deaths, but said its forces were aiming to capture Maungdaw town, about 16 km (10 miles) west of Buthidaung township, also near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

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A house destroyed by a junta airstrike in Maungdaw township, Rakhine state on May 21, 2024. (Citizen journalist)

Stoking community conflict

Two days later, the group released another statement, accusing junta troops and militiamen of setting fire to houses in the area "with the intention to create racial and religious conflict in Rakhine state."

On Tuesday, Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government issued a similar statement, saying that junta forces in Buthidaung had set fire to the homes of Hindus and majority ethnic Rakhines "with the intention of causing community conflict," carried out airstrikes and shelling, destroyed public property and burned villages, and forced the displacement of township residents, including Rohingyas. The statement acknowledged what it called "distressing reports" of an unconfirmed number of civilian casualties.

The junta has yet to issue any response to the statement and attempts by RFA to reach Rakhine state spokesperson Hla Thein for comment on the allegations went unanswered.

Casualties in resort township

Meanwhile, residents of the Rakhine state beach resort town of Thandwe told RFA on Tuesday that fierce fighting between the military and the AA there had left at least 23 civilians dead and five injured since the start of the month.

On Monday, a junta navy vessel "opened fire with heavy weapons," killing a child and injuring another person in Thandwe's Kha Maung Tone village, a resident said.

In one of the deadliest incidents this month, junta troops shelled Thandwe's Lin Thi and Shwe Hlay villages on May 14, killing 13 civilians. Four days later, a junta jet fighter dropped bombs into Thandwe's Nat Taung Maw village, killing nine and injuring another three.

Clashes between the two sides in the Thandwe villages of Yae Kauk and Pu Yit since April 22 have forced around 10,000 people to flee, residents said.

Amid the fighting, the military has cut off power to Thandwe township and increased the number of its troops at security checkpoints, they said.

International aid groups and local residents in Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Thandwe townships were told to evacuate by the United League of Arakan, the political wing of the Arakan Army, after it issued a warning of more attacks on junta forces on Monday.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.

This report has been updated to include statements by the AA and the National Unity Government, as well as details of the situation in Thandwe township.

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