Civil society groups in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state expressed sorrow and anger over the death of a seven-year-old boy two days after he was wounded in an attack last weekend by government troops on Thamee Hla village in Rakhine’s Rathetaung township.
The boy, Naing Soe, was one of three people who were caught in the crossfire Saturday when Myanmar’s army was allegedly firing into the village to retaliate against a landmine ambush against their column earlier that day.
Fighting between Myanmar soldiers and rebel Arakan Army (AA) troops intensified in northern Rakhine following deadly coordinated attacks by Arakan fighters on police outposts in neighboring Buthidaung township on Jan. 4.
Villagers said three people including Soe were injured in the attack and another three were beaten later. They also said they witnessed looting by troops in the aftermath of the attack.
Soe suffered a shrapnel wound to the head and was rushed to the hospital in Sittwe. He succumbed to his wounds while he was being transferred to Yangon on Monday for emergency treatment.
“We view that the death of children by bullets during armed conflicts is a human rights violation,” said Zaw Zaw Min of the Sittwe-based Arakan Human Rights and Development Organization (AHRDO) in an interview with RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The organization, based in Rakhine state’s capital was founded in 2017 by 18 activists from five Rakhine townships, Sittwe, Pauktaw, Min Pyar, Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw.
Than Hla, a member of the Arakan Civil Society Network said, “If the Tatmadaw indeed committed [the abuses] they should apologize to the villagers and return [stolen] materials,” referring to the Burmese name for the national armed forces.
“If they fail to do so, lack of confidence among the public about the Tatmadaw and hatred [towards them] might grow,” he said.
Arakan Liberation Party Leader Mra Yazar Lin told RFA that “Hatred is on the rise, and that’s not a good sign.”
“There are a lot of complaints about [stolen] items and [the military and the people] are blaming each other. This is not helping the peace process,” she said.
“News about a spike in injuries among villagers is very worrisome,” she added.
Mra Yazar Lin also said that local people genuinely want peace and urged the AA and the government to make offers for talks that could end the fighting.
RFA tried to contact army spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, but was unable to reach him.
In a statement, UNICEF’s Myanmar office also expressed sorrow and sadness over the death of the boy.
“Our thoughts go to the family. UNICEF calls on all parties to ensure the safety of children caught up in conflict and to protect their right to a peaceful life,” said the statement.
About 13 civilians have been injured in hostilities between government forces and the AA since early January, locals said. The total number of casualties from both sides could not be confirmed.
The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a statement Monday putting the number of displaced civilians from fighting in Rathedaung, Buthidaung, and Ponnagyun townships at 5,200 as of Jan. 25.
Authorities have blocked travel to some of the conflict areas, preventing humanitarian and development work in the region, the statement said.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Eugene Whong.