An artillery shell explosion during a clash between Myanmar troops and rebel Arakan Army soldiers on Tuesday killed a Rohingya Muslim man and his son and injured another child in violence-ridden Rakhine state’s Kyauktaw township, a village official said.
Mohamad Shofi, 38 and his eight-year-old son Husson died, and Mohammad Shazam, 15, was injured when the shell landed in Alae Gyun, a mixed Muslim and Buddhist community, said village administrator Win Hla Tun.
“It happened around 11 a.m. and killed a father and a son and injured another person,” he said.
The Myanmar military and Arakan Army (AA), which seeks greater autonomy in Rakhine state, denied any fighting in the area, despite locals who said otherwise.
“We didn’t engage in any fighting in that area,” said AA spokesman Khine Thukha. As far as we know, the Myanmar military fired at villages randomly. We also heard that such random firing had hit that village and caused some casualties.”
Myanmar Army spokesman person Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said, “There was no fighting around Alae Kyun. There’s no reason to fire randomly wasting ammunition and no reason to target an area with no enemies.”
Meanwhile, the Myanmar military said a clash on Friday between its soldiers and the AA in Chin state’s Paletwa township, where the conflict has spilled over from Rakhine state, killed a captain named Aung Moe Myint and injured an unspecified number of other soldiers, though the rebel group also suffered causalities.
“There was a clash on the 17th [of May] about three miles west of Paletwa town,” Zaw Min Tun said. “One of our officers was killed, and a few others were injured. We also got three bodies of enemy [troops].”
Khine Thukha denied that the Myanmar military had claimed the bodies, but said that 10 soldiers had died during the battle.
“AA commandos attacked a military column from Light Infantry Battalion No. 212 under the command of Light Infantry Division No. 11 of the Myanmar Army on the morning of [May] 17,” Thukha said. “It took about an hour and a half. A total of 10, including a captain and two sergeants, were killed during the fighting.”
Since fighting between the Myanmar and Arakan armies spiked in early January in Rakhine state, dozens of AA soldiers have been killed along with an unknown number of Myanmar troops. About 40 civilians have been killed by artillery explosions and improvised explosive devices, and 70 people have been injured.
UN refugee chief visits Rakhine
Also on Wednesday, Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), met with agency staff, civil society groups, and state government officials, including Chief Minister Nyi Pu, in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe to discuss refugee issues and efforts to find lasting solutions to the state’s humanitarian crisis.
Grandi, who is is on a five-day visit to Myanmar that began Monday, is stopping in communities in Sittwe and Rakhine’s northern townships before heading to the capital Naypyidaw to meet with central government officials. Sittwe camps house refugees displaced by deadly ethnic rioting in in 2012.
The U.N.'s refugee chief last visited Myanmar in August 2017 during the government military’s crackdown on the Rohingya following deadly attacks in northern Rakhine by a Muslim militant group, which caused more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
In April, he visited Muslim refugee camps in Bangladesh that house more than 1 million people, including those who fled during the 2017 violence.
Shwe Phaw Sein, chairman of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress, said there have been shortcomings in the assistance provided by international groups in the past.
“Ethnic people were ignored regarding international humanitarian assistance when they were under attack by Bengali Muslims,” he said, using a derogatory term for the Rohingya who are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
“We were told that our views were noted and have been under discussion to create the best solution,” he said. “We’re not complaining about their work on behalf of Muslims, but we’re just pointing out that international organizations are doing nothing for local [ethnic Rakhine refugees].”
Armed conflict between the Myanmar Army and the AA has displaced nearly 33,000 civilians in central and northern Rakhine state and northern Chin state since hostilities escalated in November 2018, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The humanitarian situation has been made worse because government officials have not permitted many international and domestic relief groups to operate in the state, except for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Food Programme.
“There are obstacles for international organizations in providing assistance to war victims in Rakhine state,” said Khine Kaung Zan, executive director of the Wun Let Development Foundation.
“We also highlighted that the government has imposed several restrictions [on them], so [Grandi] needs to talk to the government to get it to allow the flow of [humanitarian] assistance,” he said.
Better living conditions
On Tuesday, Grandi visited some 500 displaced people at Yan Aung Myain Monastery in Buthidaung township, where the abbot, Eindawuntha, told him that the civilians want to return home as soon as possible.
“And they want those unexploded shells in their villages to be removed because they are very dangerous,” he said. “Some children have died after playing with the shells, and some have been injured.”
The commissioner said he would discuss these matters with Myanmar government officials and submit them to the United Nations.
Grandi also met with about 50 villagers in Muslim-majority Pandaw Pyin village on Tuesday.
“We told him about our difficulty with getting enough food,” village administrator Anwar said.
“The UNHCR has an irrigation plan to improve living conditions,” he added. “[Grandi] went to look at the site and a primary school that the UNHCR plans to renovate.”
Rakhine state Municipal Affairs Minister Win Myint indicated that he was pleased with Grandi’s visit.
“The trip went well,” he said. “[Grandi] went to Maungdaw [township] and discussed cooperation between the two [Muslim and Rakhine Buddhist] communities in order for them to live normal lives.”
“[We] told him that we have prepared for the repatriation of those who fled to Bangladesh and those who remain here to accept National Verification Cards (NVCs) because it will give them opportunities,” he said.
Despite not being listed as one of Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups, the Rohingya can obtain the cards, which are part of a government effort to register members of the minority group and allow them to travel and work outside the confines of their displacement camps. The NVCs, however, do not confer Myanmar citizenship, which the Rohingya are denied.
In November 2018, Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to repatriate Rohingya refugees who wanted to return to Rakhine state, but the program has been beset by delays as many of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims do not want to return to a country where they face systematic discrimination.
The UNHCR and the United Nations Development Programme are working with the Myanmar government on the repatriation of refugees.
Reported by Thant Zin Oo, Nayrein Kyaw, and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.