The government in Myanmar’s war-torn Rakhine state has paid to rebuild more than 500 houses that were burned in attacks by aircraft and artillery or torched by soldiers last month, disaster officials said Friday, in a revelation that appeared to undercut the national military’s denial that the attacks took place.
The state government in Rakhine, where a 16-month-old conflict between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army has killed scores of civilians, paid more than 90,000,000 kyats ($65,000) on Tuesday to replace the houses burned in Tin Ma village in Kyauktaw township on March 22, said Win Zaw Htay, the director of Rakhine State Natural Disaster Management Department.
“A total of 528 houses were burned down in Tin Ma village, Tin Ma village tract, in Kyauktaw Township,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We have provided 79,400,000 kyats ($56,000) for construction materials for 397 houses and 13,100,000 kyats ($9,200) for another 131 houses. We have given a total of 92,500,000 kyats ($65,000) via Mrauk-U Township disaster management department on April 22,” he added.
On March 30, villagers from Tin Ma told a news conference that artillery fire and aerial bombardments by Myanmar forces had killed three civilians and burned scores of houses in their communities between March 12-22, amid fighting between Myanmar forces and the Arakan Army.
The villagers accused the Myanmar Army of conducting aerial bombings of civilian communities that destroyed about 150 homes and a monastery in Pyaing Taing village, while government soldiers on the ground torched houses in neighboring Tin Ma village.
Pyaing Taing residents said they believe that Myanmar soldiers intentionally bombed and burned down some houses in their community.
“The aerial bombing burned many houses on March 12, while many villagers were there,” said villager Maung Ba Saw.
On March 21, Myanmar soldiers also entered Tin Ma village, which has more than 500 houses, and later burned down dozens of homes, residents of that village said.
“They had entered the village, searched some houses and taken some property they wanted. That was all,” Tin Ma resident Zaw Aung said at the news conference on March 30.
“But on March 22, they had entered into the village around 11 a.m. and fired their guns indiscriminately in all directions,” he said. “They started burning down the houses around 11:10 a.m.”
Detailing the compensation policies for Tin Ma villages, Win Zaw Htay said the guidelines call for paying 100,000 kyats ($70) for bamboo and thatch-roofed houses, 200,000 kyats ($140) for wooden and zinc-roofed houses and 250,000 ($175) for cement houses.
RFA made repeated attempts Friday to get a comment from the Myanmar military on the compensation paid to rebuild the burned houses, but received no reply.
On April 13, the military commander-in-chief’s office said the Rakhine villagers’ allegations of mid-March burnings and aerial bombings were stories fabricated to damage the military’s reputation. The statement, carried on state television, said Myanmar security forces had inspected Tin Ma village and found it intact.
Military denials notwithstanding, local officials are saying they are willing to pursue further compensation if there is proof that more houses were burned down.
“We have problems in surveying the houses burned down in these village because they are inaccessible. It is hard to estimate the total number of houses burned down,” said Kyauktaw Township MP Oo Tun Win.
“We can roughly say that many villages in Pyaing Taing and Mone Than Pyin area were burned down,” said the Arakan National Party state lawmaker.
“The ANP is meeting families in the township to assess the number of people affected. We will compile accurate reports on how much each family has been affected, and present it to the authorities and relevant organizations,” he told RFA.
Nyi Pu, a Tin Ma villager, said he is not sure about returning to his former home under current conditions.
“I’d prefer to rebuild my home in my village, but there is no guarantee of security in my former village,” he told RFA.
“The military troops enter the village and arrest the people at will. We are too scared to live. I will only return and rebuild my home on the condition that there are guarantees for my life and security.”
Scores of civilians have died and tens of thousands of others have been displaced by fighting between Myanmar and Arakan forces in Rakhine and Chin states since early 2019.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert