Junta shelling of Rakhine village kills 12 people, leaves 32 wounded

The artillery attacks on civilian homes in late January came as the rebel Arakan Army dug in nearby.
By RFA Burmese
Junta shelling of Rakhine village kills 12 people, leaves 32 wounded A damaged building is seen after a junta airstrike on Let Saung Kauk village in Kyauktaw township, Rakhine state, Feb. 11, 2024.
(Arakan Bay News)

Four straight days of artillery shelling of a village in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state left 12 people dead and 32 wounded as inhabitants hunkered down between positions taken by military junta troops and the rebel ethnic Arakan Army.

The shelling took place in Hpon Nyo Leik village of Buthidaung township between Jan. 25 and Jan. 28, Southeast Asia-based advocacy group Fortify Rights said in a statement on Tuesday. 

The attacks appeared to target civilians in the mostly ethnic Rohingya village and resulted in the destruction of more than 40 homes and the displacement of 15,000 people from several surrounding villages, the group said. Eight of the 32 injured were children, it said.

The junta’s Light Infantry Division 22, Light Infantry Battalion 551 and Military Operations Command 15 were likely responsible for the attack on Hpon Nyo Leik village and should be investigated for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, the group said. 

“The laws of war apply to the junta’s forces and all parties to the conflict and, whenever possible, civilians must be warned of incoming attacks,” said John Quinley III, the director at Fortify Rights. 

“Our recent investigation suggests effective warnings of military attacks could have saved civilian lives,” he said in the statement. 

‘So much blood’

The shelling began after the Arakan Army, or AA, dug trenches around the village on Jan. 24 in anticipation of a junta offensive, according to a statement from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Inhabitants [were] trapped between the two warring parties,” the Jan. 30 statement from the U.N.’s human right chief, Volker Türk, said. “The military repeatedly shelled the village, destroying infrastructure.” 

People flee from a village after renewed fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army in Pauktaw township in western Rakhine state on Nov. 19, 2023. (AFP)

Since November, Rakhine state has seen renewed fighting between the AA and the junta after the end of a year-long unofficial ceasefire. 

Fortify Rights said it interviewed six Rohingya survivors of the artillery attacks. The group also reviewed mobile phone videos and looked at dozens of photos of wounded residents and burning buildings.

Village residents told Fortify Rights that the AA didn’t warn residents that it should evacuate the area. 

One 29-year-old survivor told the group he found a way to leave the village on the first day of shelling. He then returned the morning of Jan. 26 during a pause to check for casualties. 

“The shelling hit one family – two men died, Sadek and Faruk,” he said. “Their legs got crushed.”

There were two other deaths in the household – Faruk’s grandmother and another woman. He described the scene in graphic detail.

“The bodies had so much blood around them,” he told Fortify Rights.

Attempts by Radio Free Asia to contact Hla Thein, the junta’s spokesman for Rakhine state, and junta spokesman Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun to ask about Fortify Rights’ statement were unsuccessful.   

Aerial attack in Pauktaw

Elsewhere in Rakhine state, junta helicopters used machine guns and dropped bombs on Taung Phue and Kyauk Pyin villages in Pauktaw township at about 11 p.m. on Monday, local residents said.

The aerial attack injured nine displaced persons who have been staying in the area, the residents said. Several fishing boats and homes were destroyed.

“A jet fighter dropped more than 20 bombs on our village and shot people with machine guns,” one resident told RFA. “Two bombs dropped in front of a house and hit people hiding under the house.”

Seven of the nine wounded were taken to another village for medical treatment for serious injuries, residents said.

RFA hasn’t been able to independently confirm the attacks and couldn’t immediately reach Hla Thein for comment.

According to figures compiled by RFA, more than 120 civilians have been killed and at least 260 have been injured since the resurgence of armed conflict in Rakhine state on Nov. 13. 

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Matt Reed.


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