Seven civilians in Myanmar’s Rakhine state were killed by artillery fire Friday during what the government claims was a battle between Myanmar’s military and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) at Si Taung Gyi village in Buthidaung township. The AA said there was no fighting in the area.
Villagers told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the government’s attack occurred at about 10 p.m. local time. The village had been vacated by the time inspectors arrived on the scene after the incident.
“They fled to a nearby village in Buthidaung township,” said Tun Aung Thien, a Rakhine state parliament member from the township.
Among the dead were six ethnic Rakhines and one Rohingya Muslim – the first Rohingya casualty in fighting that has claimed 24 civilians and 22 police since hostilities flared up late last year. Seven civilians are missing and more than 20,000 people have been displaced.
“They launched the attack into the village around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.,” said a resident of Si Taung Gyi.
“We all would have died if we stayed, so we fled,” said the villager.
Reports from villagers indicate that the shells that killed the seven were fired by government troops.
Reuters has obtained photographs taken by a Rakhine lawmaker that show the bloody bodies of what appears to be four of the seven victims, including a young boy and a middle-aged woman lying in what they described as a dusty pit.
Maung Thar Phyu, a civil society activist, told Reuters that they were civilians hiding in a bomb shelter.
Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun of the Myanmar military’s information committee told RFA, “The fighting occurred at night time. The other side took a position at the far end of the village and fired at us, so we retaliated.”
“It is very difficult to determine who is responsible for the death of civilians when both sides were firing, and we can’t tell if these victims were killed by the AA or the government,” he said.
“AA members were shooting from across the village, and the military was shooting back,” he said.
According to some lawmakers from the region, there has been fighting in Buthiduang township for the past nine days, and it spread to Rathedaung township today.
But AA spokesman Khine Thukha denied that any fighting took place between Arakan and government troops in Buthidaung.
“There were no clashes. They are making it up since they want to punish the local villagers,” he said.
“They are lying to the world to cover up the war crimes they are committing. This is a very horrible war crime. The truth is there was no fighting in that area,” he said.
The AA and local villagers have dismissed army claims of recent battles with the Rakhine rebel group, asserting that government soldiers have fired indiscriminately at civilians.
The AA had been in discussions with the government to end the fighting between them, but came away from those talks on Thursday with no agreement other than to hold further discussions.
Reported by Htet Arkar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.