Rakhine Villagers Say Myanmar Army Fired Randomly on Ancient Town, Reject Army Firefight Claims

2019-03-19
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A house burns after being hit by exploding artillery shells in a village in Mrauk-U township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, March 18, 2019.
A house burns after being hit by exploding artillery shells in a village in Mrauk-U township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, March 18, 2019.
Photo courtesy of a citizen journalist

The Myanmar military indiscriminately opened fire Monday night in the ancient Rakhine town of Mrauk-U, including at historical religious sites, injuring seven villagers in the latest shooting incident in war-torn Rakhine state, area residents said.

Local residents said government troops started shooting from military trucks as they passed around 7 p.m., wounding the seven civilians, including women and children.

The Myanmar Army denied the random shootings.

“According to locals, government soldiers shot into the town from the hills, and it was not a battle,” said Tun Thar Sein, a lawmaker representing Mrauk-U in the Rakhine state parliament.

“They said it was a clearance operation by the government army,” he added.

Government soldiers fired their weapons in response to an attack by the Arakan Army (AA), a Buddhist Rakhine military fighting for autonomy in the state, said Colonel Win Zaw Oo, spokesman of the Myanmar military’s Western Command which is responsible for Rakhine, on Tuesday.

“We have a military headquarters in Mrauk-U,” he said. “The AA began shooting at us from the front as well as from the sides at about 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. last night.”

“They also shot at our security guards in town and on the streets, as well as from the historical site,” he said. “That’s why we had to shoot back. We shot back at them carefully. We didn’t shoot back without reason.”

The Myanmar Army has been fighting Arakan forces in several townships in the northern part of Rakhine state since late last year.

Other residents also reported that no AA troops were in the vicinity of the gunfire.

“Military trucks came into town, and soldiers were shooting around with small arms and heavy weapons from these trucks, said Ashin Wunna Thara, a monk from Myo-U Monastery. “There were no AA soldiers in town, and nobody said the AA did it.”

Now locals do not go out at night, and everyone goes to bed around 8 p.m., he added.

“We have heard that police and soldiers are checking houses in downtown Mrauk-U,” the monk said. “I visited downtown today, and it was like a ghost town.”

‘Army did it intentionally’

Kyaw Zan, a resident of Mrauk-U’s Pan Myaung village, said he believes that soldiers opened fire on purpose.

“The government army did it intentionally,” he said. “Because of their random firings, a 10-year-old child from Mro Chaung village was injured on her arm, and a woman from Pan Myaung village was injured on her leg.”

“The government soldiers are checking the monasteries in villages,” he added.

Many locals displaced by fighting in Mrauk-U and other Rakhine townships have sought shelter in monasteries.

A resident of Myaung Taung village confirmed that a child had been injured.

“A child from Mro Chaung village was injured by the government army’s shooting, and we saw some soldiers putting bandages on that child, said the villager who declined to give his name.

Some of those injured, including a husband and wife wounded by an exploding artillery shell, were being treated at the main hospital in Mrauk-U, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.

RFA was later unable to reach Win Zaw Oo for further comment on the injured civilians.

On Tuesday, the Myanmar military’s information team said in a statement that the AA is engaging in deliberate  sabotage by destroying civilian, government, and historical religious buildings.

On Monday, AA spokesman Khine Thukha accused the government army of damaging ancient monuments and temples in Mrauk-U, remnants of a powerful empire that existed there from the 15th century to the late 18th century.

Meanwhile, the AA and two other ethnic armed groups released a joint statement on Tuesday, accusing the Myanmar Army of committing crimes against civilians and historical zones by attacking civilians, religious sites, and pagodas with heavy weapons and fighter jets, The Irrawaddy reported.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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