Seven villagers were killed and eight others injured by mortar fire from Myanmar military aircraft following fighting Tuesday between government forces and the rebel Arakan Army in Chin state abutting war-riven Rakhine state, local residents said.
Amid the latest escalation in a 15-month-old conflict that has not paused even as Myanmar grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, government forces launched airstrikes in the evening following the clash that occurred near Nanchaungwa village in Paletwa township, they said.
The dead include a three-year old, three females, and four males. The others were injured by both artillery fire and in house fires caused by the attack, they said.
“Eight villagers have been injured, and they are receiving treatment at the hospital,” said a villager who requested anonymity out of fear for his safety.
“At least eight homes have been burned down,” he added. “Seven people have died so far. Most of the injured don’t have fatal injuries, but one of them is in serious condition.”
Another villager who declined to provide a name for the same reason said the residents heard gunfire from an area about a mile from Nanchaungwa village between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. local time Tuesday.
Later that day, two military aircraft began firing the area near the village around 4:30 p.m., he said.
The aerial attack “burned many houses and killed a few people,” he said, speaking to RFA from the hospital. “It was the fighter jets. Many villagers were hiding under houses hit by artillery fire from the planes. That’s why many villagers were burned and injured and others killed.”
At least four mortar shells fired from the aircraft fell into the village, while one house under which people took shelter was burned, residents said.
The online journal The Irrawaddy reported that an additional villager had been injured, and that nine homes and a rice mill had burned down.
More than 180 villagers fled to Nay La Village following the air assault and took up shelter in religious buildings, the report said.
The Arakan Army (AA) said Wednesday that its troops engaged in a 40-minute clash with Myanmar soldiers in an area about 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) south of Paletwa at 7:40 a.m. Tuesday.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday that the Myanmar Army lost some soldiers who were guarding the Paletwa Bridge over the Kalatan River during the battle, and that the government air force conducted airstrikes in both the area where the fighting had occurred and in non-conflict areas around 11 a.m.
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun confirmed the battle and the military airstrikes in the area, but said he did not have information about civilian deaths and injuries. The government military only rarely confirms casualties.
The villagers said they cannot report the latest situation because of a mobile internet service shutdown in Paletwa township that prevents them from sending messages, photos, and videos to humanitarian organizations and their lawmakers.
The Myanmar government ordered mobile network operators to suspend service in Paletwa and eight townships in neighboring Rakhine state as a security measure amid the hostilities.
Fighting since the beginning of 2019 has killed hundreds of civilians and displaced about 157,000 others in northern Rakhine state, according to the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a local humanitarian relief group.
At least 70 civilians have died, and more than 170 have been injured in northern Rakhine sate and in Chin’s Paletwa township since February 26, according to a tally by RFA.
Rice shortages continue
The number of displaced persons in Paletwa town has now reached more than 2,000, with residents facing severe rice shortages because of road closures due to the fighting, said Salai Isaac Khen, former Chin state minister for municipality, electricity and industry.
“We are out of rice,” he said, adding that 80 bags recently transferred from the town of Samee are almost gone.
“There are rice bags in Samee,” he added. “If military troops take care of the security, and AA troops agree not to carry out any ambushes, then we would be able to transport the rice bags from Samee to Paletwa.”
Local leaders already have transported 4,000 bags of rice — a staple food in Myanmar — from Samee to Paletwa, which lies two hours away. They also have purchased 6,000 rice bags in Rakhine state’s capital Sittwe, but they cannot ship them to Paletwa due to the armed fighting, said Soe Htet, Chin state’s minister of municipal affairs, electricity, and industry.
“We are working to transport these rice bags as soon as possible,” he told RFA. “The military is trying to secure the route for transport.”
“We hope we will be able to send these rice bags by vehicle once the military has secured the road,” he added.
Fighting between the AA and the Myanmar military along Kaladan River in Paletwa and in Rakhine’s Kyauktaw township has damaged local transportation networks, causing rice shortages in Paletwa since February.
About 8,000 people live in Paletwa town, while more than 100,000 people resident in the entire township.
The World Food Programme, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations, announced April 3 that it would provide food supplies for displaced civilians in Samee.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.