A village with more than 50 households in Myanmar’s strife-torn Rakhine state was torched by government soldiers on Wednesday and Thursday, the latest in at least six such burnings in recent weeks, a local witness and a spokesman for the Arakan Army told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Ooyinthar village in Rakhine’s Buthidaung township, which was empty because residents had fled, appeared to be completely burned, the witness aid.
“I saw a large column of smoke coming out from the village. I also saw large flames in the village. I think the whole village has been burned -- maybe nothing was left,” said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing personal security concerns.
“There were no battles or firing of heavy artillery in the area, so they must have torched the village on purpose,” added the witness.
“The Myanmar military is stationed in other side of the creek as well as in nearby mountains. They have surrounded Ooyinthar village an there are no other armed groups,” said the witness.
Other residents described seeing smoke and flames beginning early on Thursday, but it was impossible for RFA to obtain details on Ooyinthar or a nearby village populated by mostly Muslim residents called Sinthaypyin, because the population of both villages fled the area.
“We have been informed that the army soldiers entered the village shooting their guns and afterward, they started torching the houses. There were no battles in the area,” said Arakan Army spokesman Khine Thukha.
Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the Myanmar military’s Western Regional Command responsible for Rakhine state, said government soldiers had exchanged fire with the Arakan Amy over the past two days.
“Ooyinthar village has been deserted for a long time. The villagers from Ooyinthar have fled due to fighting and took shelter on nearby Zeyditaung mountain,” he told RFA.
“Since then, Arakan Army insurgents have taken over the village and they have been ambushing our troops from there,” said Win Zaw Oo.
“There has been armed fighting for two days. As the two sides fired artillery at one another, the village must have been burned. We had to fire into the village since they were firing from the village,” he added.
Aung Thaung Shwe, a lawmaker representing Buthidaung township tolf RFA there had been “many incidents of village torching in Rakhine state” and this week marked the second time in his township.
He listed similar burnings this year in the Rakhine villages of Alalchaung, Nayontaung, Shartaung and Sinthaypyin.
“I think justice should be granted those who become victims of these arson cases. I think arson is really unnecessary,” said Aung Thaung Shwe.
Fighting in Rakhine state flared up late last year as Arakan Army forces launched a push for greater autonomy in the state. Dozens of civilians have died or been injured in the conflict.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.