Six people were wounded Friday during attacks by the rebel Arakan Army on a police border outpost in a village in western Myanmar’s volatile Rakhine state, where ethnic insurgents are fighting government forces for grater regional autonomy, local residents and military spokesmen from both sides said.
About 100 AA troops fired on the outpost in Nyaungchaung village, Buthidaung township, slightly injuring two policemen and four villagers, including three Muslim women from a nearby village, they said.
“This morning about 100 AA insurgents attacked the police outpost which has been protecting the ethnic groups,” said Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Regional Command responsible for Rakhine state.
He said the AA soldiers arrived by motor boat along a creek between two villages near the Mayu River at 4:15 a.m.
“They attacked the police outpost from the south and the west,” he said. “They stopped firing around 5:45 a.m. Two of our security forces were injured. We have seized bodies and weapons from the AA.”
AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the building was not a police outpost where officers were stationed to protect residents, as the Myanmar military claims.
“Some military troops are also stationed at that border outpost,” he said. “They provide supplies to their front lines in Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships from there. They had harassed and intimidated the local civilians, so we were giving them a warning. This was just a warning shot.”
During their retreat from the area, AA soldiers fired shots into the area’s Kardi Muslim village, injuring the three women, Win Zaw Oo said.
The women’s wounds were not life-threatening, said Buithdiaung township administrator Kyaw Min Tun, adding that all four villagers who had been shot were being treated at the township hospital.
But Khine Thukha said the trio and a young man from Nyaungchaung village were injured by the Myanmar Army’s random shooting in response to the AA’s assault.
RFA could not independently confirm which side was responsible for the gunfire.
Government forces are now conducting a clearance operation in the area, Win Zaw Oo said, though most village residents have left their homes to seek shelter in nearby communities.
“Around half of all the villagers have fled,” said a Nyaungchaung village resident who declined to be named out of fear of for his safety. “They fled to nearby places.”
“Right now, I haven’t heard anything,” he said. “Everything is pretty quiet.”
The incident is the third such assault by the Rakhine Buddhist military force on police outposts in the state. During the first one on Jan. 4, AA soldiers attacked four police outposts near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh, killing 13 policemen and injuring nine others.
During a second attack on March 10, AA soldiers killed nine policemen and injured two others during an assault on a police outpost in Ponnagyun township.
‘A violation of their rights’
Buthidaung is one of nine townships in western Myanmar under a temporary government-ordered internet blackout because of fighting between the Myanmar Army and the AA.
The others are Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Minbya, and Myebon townships in Rakhine state, and Paletwa township in neighboring Chin State — all areas where armed conflict has occurred.
Thant Sin Maung, Myanmar’s minister of transport and communications, told RFA Friday that the government is considering lifting the ban, but did not give a time frame for the resumption of services.
“We are considering lifting the ban on internet services there,” he said.
Thant Sin Maung said that hate speech on social media was responsible for throwing regional security into disarray in the conflict zone.
“As you know, there's a lot of hate speech on the internet, he said. “Hate speech disrupts the rule of law and regional security. That was the reason the shutdown was issued.”
But Wai Phyo Myint, an information and communication technology policy officer at the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business, called for a reassessment of the situation.
“We need to reevaluate the reasons for the internet shutdown, whether it is to block hate speech or to have regional security,” he said. “We need to evaluate if the shutdown is really relevant to the stated reasons.”
Lawmakers from the region have complained that the internet blackout has prevented them from communicating with their constituents, while humanitarian groups say it has hindered them from delivering relief aid to areas in need.
Residents say the shutdown means they cannot access online media for news about the armed conflict or to conduct certain types of business.
“I feel bad for not being able to help my constituents in a timely manner,” said Khin Saw Wai, an Arakan National Party lawmaker who represents Rathedaung township in Myanmar’s lower house of parliament.
“In addition, government personnel, journalists, students, and others in the region are facing hardships due to the internet shutdown since they cannot get the information they need,” she said. “It also prevents locals from accessing the media. This is a violation of their rights.”
Reported by Win Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.